The final New Japan show of the year was the last real stop before WrestleKingdom – and we closed out with a mash-up of the Tokyo Dome opener and main event for a hell of a match.

Like on Friday, we had another fever dream with the Masked Horse bearing gifts, tossing out the contents of his big bag to Korakuen Hall. Just like yesterday, the ghost of Christmas present is giving us Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton on commentary, with Rocky Romero likely dropping by after his match.

Ayato Yoshida & Shota Umino vs. Teruaki Kanemitsu & Ren Narita
This match marked the return of Kanemitsu after he’d been on the shelf for two years with a neck injury.

He wants to start the match, and that he does against Shota Umino, taking him into the ropes as we had our first taste of different generations of the New Japan Dojo. After taking Umino to the ropes, Kanemitsu scrambled free before another headlock takedown’s countered free as both men struggled to get the upper hand. Umino started to edge ahead with a wristlock, but another headlock takes him down.

Kanemitsu has to scramble to the ropes after Umino got an armbar on, then edges ahead with a shoulder tackle for a near-fall as the returning Young Lion was getting a LOT of ring time. A tag’s made to Ren Narita, who ate a double shoulder block for a two-count, as Ayato Yoshida came in to try and save Umino… it didn’t work as Umino remained isolated with Kanemitsu coming back into play.

Eventually Shota edges free with a low dropkick before making a tag to Yoshida who looked rather frustrated that he had to wait so long. There’s a hiptoss to Kanemitsu, before a forearm left Kanemitsu flat on the mat, with the referee concerned over a possible re-injury. A chinlock followed from Yoshida, but Kanemitsu got to the ropes as Umino returned, seemingly deliberately targeting that neck with boots and elbows. Those strikes anger Ren Narita, who tried to protest to the referee as Umino trapped Kanemitsu in headscissors, but he got free and brought in Narita for a second go around.

Yoshida eats a shoulder tackle then gets tripped into a camel clutch as Narita seemed resurgent. An overhead belly-to-belly gets Narita a near-fall too, before a diving kick from Yoshida cut him off. Umino returned in search of a waistlock, only to get clocked with a dropkick to the back before Kanemitsu came back into the match again, scoring with a bodyslam as the ring announcer chimed in with a time call. We go to a Boston crab, but Shota Umino’s way too fresh as he scrambled to the ropes.

Narita comes in without a tag, but Kanemitsu stops him and takes Umino down with a suplex before we went back to a Boston crab. Yoshida breaks it up as we were well into the final minute with Kanemitsu and Umino teeing off on each other, before an Umino dropkick led to him rolling Kanemitsu into a Boston crab as… time ran out. Should have gone for the pin, Shota! We open with a time limit draw that seemed to establish Kanemitsu back on the main roster of Young Lions – and apparently as Umino’s equal as well. It’s back to being day one for Kanemitsu. ***

It should be noted how Kevin Kelly’s commentary here added an extra dimension of realism to the match. Even if you knew the injury and the backstory behind Kanemitsu, his commentary sold everything just that little bit more.

Rocky Romero & Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask & Toa Henare
Chris Charlton on commentary surmised that Henare may be trying to find partners for the NEVER trios gauntlet as we started with Rocky Romero trying to shake Liger’s hand.

There was no ruse here… Christmas cheer, eh? Liger struck first with a tiltawhirl backbreaker before he ran into a dropkick as we quickly swapped through tags. YOH and Henare swatted through each other with chops, but the heavyweight Henare shrugs off some dropkicks before a drop toe hold and a low dropkick had Roppongi 3K ahead. Henare tagged in Tiger Mask, who had a little more luck with kicks before he dropped an elbow to YOH’s head ahead of a butterfly suplex.

Liger completes the set as he pulls YOH into a Romero special, right into the corner as Henare screamed at YOH before he was brought back in. YOH manages to take Henare down and bring Rocky back in, but a wild ‘rana’s blocked by Henare, only for Rocky to take him into the corner… and run into a rugby tackle as he tried those Forever lariats. More tags take us to Tiger Mask and SHO, with the former grabbing a leg lock as Rocky’s forced to make a save, but he ends up taking a Tiger Bomb for his woes.

SHO’s still in the corner as he takes a head kick before Roppongi 3K just about caught Tiger with leaping knees. Henare gets some too, as Liger’s taken outside for a Romero tope as the junior tag team title challengers looked to be edging ahead, only for Tiger Mask to counter a 3K attempt into a crucifix. Moments later though, Tiger Mask eats the 3K as SHO & YOH ended their year with a one-two-three win. **¾

After the match everyone shook hands as it seemed that the thawing of relations between CHAOS and the New Japan home team continued. Is everyone going to end up uniting against the Bullet Club in 2019?

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & Takashi Iizuka) vs. Hirooki Goto & Tomohiro Ishii
Well, why not end the year with Suzuki against two of the men he’s faced off with this year in singles matches?

We had a jump start, with Iizuka trying to hang Ishii with the mic cable, while Suzuki takes Goto into the crowd. There’s chairshots for Goto, then Ishii, as the brawling got a little too wild as Suzuki dragged Goto towards the Japanese commentary table, as Kevin Kelly suggested that Suzuki was perhaps more than a little upset with being left off the main card. Meanwhile still in the crowd, Ishii’s still getting choked out by Iizuka’s chair.

A hanging armbar in the ring has Suzuki ahead, but he has to let go… so Iizuka can choke Goto on the apron. Eh, at least we’re not getting the brutal hanging choke from WrestleKingdom. Iizuka’s tagged in and unmasked as he decided to taste Goto’s knee pad, then Ishii’s head, almost sending himself over the top rope and to the floor as he sank his teeth into the back of Ishii’s head. Ishii tags in as he and Suzuki went at it, absorbing clotheslines and elbows as I cast my mind not too far back to when they absolutely leathered each other in Brixton. And Manchester. And Milton Keynes… Eventually Suzuki’s knocked down by a shoulder charge, before he got back up and then went back down after duelling boots. Oof.

Suzuki manages to tag in Iizuka, who stopped Ishii from tagging out as the Rev Pro champion finds himself isolated. An atomic drop and a PK’s good for a near-fall, before Iizuka tries to pin Ishii with a rope choke. Thankfully, Goto broke it up as Iizuka goes back to biting. Goto stops it with an ushigoroshi before a sliding lariat from Ishii, then a sheer drop brainbuster drew the win. This was a little heavy on Iizuka shenanigans, but that flury between Suzuki and Ishii more than made up for it, as did our usual dose of Suzuki’s sore loser antics, including throwing a Young Lion into a wall! ***

The Elite (Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & SANADA)
Chase is still a little salty over not being involved in World Tag League, and he starts in there against SANADA.

A snapmare’s flipped out of by SANADA as we opened with a flurry of activity that ends in a square-off, before Chase trips SANADA and looks for the Paradise Lock. He rolls him over, but SANADA easily escaped, and Chase nearly craps himself as he realised the lock wasn’t fully in. Yeah, SANADA shows him how it’s done…

Tags bring in EVIL and Yujiro, with the latter going for a hair pull before he bit his way out of a headlock. The shenanigans continue as Yujiro catches a superkick, turning it into a leg sweep before EVIL hit back. SANADA’s sent to the outside as EVIL was isolated for some two-on-one offence, as the Elite pairing edged ahead. A snapmare and a low dropkick’s good for a two-count from Yujiro, before Chase diverts the attention before punching EVIL in the throat.

EVIL tries to hit back with a Fisherman’s suplex, which he eventually hit on Yujiro before the hot tag was made to SANADA, who flipped over the ropes so he could wipe out Owens with a cannonball off the apron. Back in the ring, SANADA flips out of Yujiro’s reverse DDT, only for his Skull End to get countered with a Fisherman buster as Chase returned. There’s a running knee to SANADA for a near-fall, before using a snapmare version of an Iconoclasm for a near-fall. EVIL’s back in to make a save as he directs Chase’s superkick to Yujiro ahead of Darkness Falls, before he scooped up Yujiro as LIJ hit an Indytaker. HMMM. A Magic Killer follows, and that’s enough for the comprehensive win in a solid match which adds a little more steam to LIJ ahead of the Tokyo Dome. ***¼

Suzuki-gun (Taichi, El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, BUSHI & Shingo Takagi)
The collective disappointment on the commentary table of the lack of Miho Abe today was certainly a thing…

Yeah, we get a jump start here, with all six men heading outside before we settled down as Desperado tried to put the boots to Shingo. Challenging Shingo to a chop battle was a very bad idea, as Desperado then gets met with a knee in the ropes before bringing in BUSHI to choke out Despy with a t-shirt. Naito’s in next, as he pulls Desperado into a version of a camel clutch – but using the tassles on Desperado’s mask to painfully stretch him back in. Taichi finally gets involved, throwing Naito into the crowd before drilling him with a chair, while Shingo met some more barricades head-first. Shingo came up with a little red on him from that, and it goes from bad to worse as Taichi rakes the cut after he made it back to the ring.

The wound gave the Suzuki-gun team a clear target, with Taichi’s mic stand coming into play on the outside as Taichi tries to open the wound further before everyone stomps on Shingo back in the ring. Elbows from Desperado keep targeting the wound, but Shingo fought back in kind, connecting with lefts and rights before… Kanemaru kicked him in the back. A suplex drops Desperado as Shingo finally got free, bringing in BUSHI who looked to edge ahead, finally clocking Despy with a reverse spin kick.

More tags bring us back to Taichi and Naito, with the latter scoring a backbreaker before taking Taichi into the corner for the Combinacion Cabron dropkick. Taichi hits back with an enziguiri in the corner before the trousers came off… Naito counters a buzzsaw kick with an enziguiri, before he ran into an Axe Bomber! That opened the door for Kanemaru and Desperado to double-team with a dropkick-assisted sidewalk slam, then a reverse DDT for a near-fall.

Shingo’s back in as he obliterates Kanemaru with a Pumping Bomber, before Gloria earned Naito a near-fall. Desperado makes a save before a tope suicida from BUSHI got rid of him, as Destino saw Naito flip over Kanemaru for the win. Enjoyable stuff, although that long crowd brawl piece nearly lost me. Tellingly though, Naito gets the pin here on the junior tag champions, but the star of the piece was Shingo overcoming the busted eye to hold on. ***

Post-match, Chris Jericho’s music hits – and he’s in Korakuen Hall! He’s got a chair too as he wipes out LIJ, who were watching the video screen thinking they were getting a promo. Jericho’s painted his eyes again, and lays out Naito with a Codebreaker as we actually got some build for WrestleKingdom. Oh, and Jericho whacking a chair onto the ring post before going after fans in the crowd wearing LIJ merch.

Bullet Club (Jay White, Bad Luck Fale, Taiji Ishimori & Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa)) vs. Kazuchika Okada, Togi Makabe, Toru Yano, Tomoaki Honma & KUSHIDA
Gedo’s fine after his “car accident” yesterday, and the beating he got from Okada as his year wraps up with a ten-man tag.

We’ve got a jump start as Okada and co. tried to get the upper hand, but we settle down to Makabe taking Fale into the middle rope with a drop toe hold as Yano threw a phantom chair shot at Fale. A scoop slam from Makabe to Ishimori followed, which meant that KUSHIDA wanted in. We’ve a cartwheel dropkick from KUSHIDA to Ishimori, before KUSHIDA stopped in his tracks as Jado threatened a Kendo stick shot… a shot that comes when everyone spills to the outside.

They head into the crowd, as Fale chokes out Makabe with his own chain, while Ishimori marched KUSHIDA back to the ring to bet the count-out. White’s back in to stomp on KUSHIDA, then follow up with a backbreaker for a near-fall as Okada breaks it up… then gets himself tossed outside. Fale ups the ante with a big back body drop to KUSHIDA before he just kneels on him for a two-count. Tama Tonga’s in next as he comes close with a suplex on KUSHIDA, before distracting himself as KUSHIDA almost scrambled free. There’s a back body drop out of KUSHIDA too, but Tama tags Fale back in, with the big man clearing the apron before his attempt to block a sunset flip sees KUSHIDA roll away from the sit-out splash. Jay White knocks Okada off the apron as he was about to tag in, as poor KUSHIDA continued to take the beating/

Somehow, KUSHIDA blocks the tombstone gutbuster from Ishimori before passing him onto the referee ahead of a kick to the arm, and now tags take us to White and Okada! The high-speed back elbow from Okada catches White, before DDTs take out the GOD, then White as Okada was in fine form. White hit back with a Saito suplex, then a twister suplex for a near-fall, before a suplex sent Okada back into the turnbuckles. Tanga Loa tries to capitalise with a corner clothesline, but he quickly runs into a flapjack as Honma tags in and looks to keep on top of him with right hands. A bulldog takes Tanga down, before… Honma misses a Kokeshi. Standard.

A modified Blue Thunder bomb from Tanga Loa led to a rude landing for Honma, who then ate Guerrilla Warfare as the GOD picked up a two-count with Yano breaking things up. He’s made to pay with a neckbreaker before Honma’s charged into the corner for a Stinger Splash, and then the double-team powerbomb… which Makabe broke up! That led into a Parade of Moves, going too quick for most to call, ending with an Okada dropkick to White.

Okada whips Honma into a leaping Kokeshi on Tanga Loa, before the regular one finds its mark… and that’s… enough for a two-count! From there, Jado gets involved with a Kendo stick to the back of Honma before Tanga Loa finished him off with the Apeshit for the win. Decent stuff again, but once again Okada couldn’t find a way past Jay White – as he looked to be staring down the barrel of defeat at the Tokyo Dome in three weeks’ time. ***¼

Post-match, White chewed out Okada, asking him “where’s CHAOS?”. In spite of the healing relations between the non-Bullet Club factions, that’s still a pertinent question… especially since Okada tried to jump the Bullet Club from behind and got laid out as expected. A Blade Runner leaves Okada down as things looked ominous for the Tokyo Dome.

Hiroshi Tanahashi & Will Ospreay vs. Golden☆Lovers (Kenny Omega & Kota Ibushi)
They’ve alloted sixty minutes for this match, so they may well be going long… and I bloody well hope they do, as this is one of those increasingly-rare dream matches.

Ibushi and Ospreay start out, but they’re relatively sedate as they look to work each other’s arm rather than flip around. The pace quickens as Ospreay monkey flipped Ibushi to the outside, before faking out a dive having sent Omega to the floor too. They quickly mirror each other en route to the stand-off… and now we get Omega/Tanahashi!

They too start off by going for the arm, before Tanahashi trips Omega into a side headlock, clinging on before Omega took him into the corner, where he missed with a cheapshot. Tanahashi reapplies the headlock, with Omega elbowing free before he’s met with a springboard crossbody out of the corner. Ospreay’s back in to help with duelling back elbows and an assisted corkscrew for a near-fall, as he and Tanahashi do a little air guitaring.

Omega clings onto the rope to stop an Irish whip, but he’s just met with a chop before he blasts Ospreay with a knee to the midsection. Off comes the t-shirt as Omega goes all BUSHI on us, allowing Ibushi to return and try to capitalise with some forearms. Ospreay returned those in kind, before Omega tagged back in to get a near-fall with a backbreaker, as Ospreay became increasingly isolated.

Eventually Ospreay got free, shoving Ibushi off the apron before Omega ducks an enziguiri… so he knocks Tanahashi off the apron before lighting up Will with chops. Ospreay’s handspring enziguiri finds its mark too, as Tanahashi finally tags in to lay into Kenny with right hands before a dropkick in the corner set up Omega for a flip senton. The Dragon screw followed, before Ibushi came in and kicked away Tanahashi as he tried to go for a Cloverleaf.

Some double-teaming led to a Kotaro Krusher form Omega, before the Golden☆Lovers caught a crossbody from Ospreay and turfed him to the outside. Tanahashi went outside too, which left the pair in place for the Cross/Slash duelling Golden Triangle moonsaults, before more double teaming saw a Finlay roll from Omega and a standing shooting star headbutt from Ibushi get stopped as Ospreay hit a slingshot sunset bomb on Omega, sending him onto Ibushi. Oof.

Things settle down again as Tanahashi and Omega trade right hands, then chops, before a Slingblade was ducked and met with a snap Dragon suplex. Tanahashi lands the Slingblade anyway, before Ibushi came in and blocked a springboard from Ospreay. A tease of a deadlift German suplex from the apron’s stopped as Ospreay gets the springboard forearm then a standing shooting star press for a near-fall.

Ospreay and Ibushi return to strikes before a snap German suplex sees Ibushi stop things on a dime for a near-fall. Omega stops Ospreay from tagging out, but ends up eating a Stundog Millionaire as he went for Ospreay… an OsCutter’s blocked but Ospreay flips free of a snap Dragon as the pace became breathless once again… until a V-Trigger caught him out. There’s a standing shooting star press from Ospreay for a near-fall too, as he looked to follow up by dragging Omega into the corner… but the brakes are put on when Ibushi grabs Ospreay’s leg up top.

A top rope ‘rana from Ibushi just sees Ospreay land on his feet… and there’s our latest flash of what’ll happen at the Dome! Disbelief in Ibushi’s eyes gave way to more strikes, including a kick to the chest from Ibushi, which Ospreay responds to well, eventually kicking Ibushi in the knee before taking a clothesline as another breathless series has me worried for how I’ll cover their singles match!

Tanahashi goes for Ibushi with a Dragon screw as Omega returned fire with a Slingblade of all things… earning him some boos from Korakuen Hall. A V-Trigger follows for Tanahashi as they teased the Golden Trigger, but instead Omega and Ibushi take Ospreay to the corner for a Golden Shower… only for Will to pop up and hit a double Spanish Fly! From there, Tanahashi heads up for a High Fly Flow to Omega, before Ospreay’s shooting star press hits the mark for a near-fall as Ibushi broke it up! We cross the 25 minute mark as Ospreay teases a Storm Breaker to Omega, but it’s countered with a reverse ‘rana before Ibushi swiftly lands a Last Ride. A Praying Mantis bomb from Omega’s next, but he doesn’t go for a cover as instead Ospreay ends up in the ropes for a V-Trigger, before a One Winged Angel is somehow countered with a ‘rana for a near-fall!

Ospreay sidesteps a V-Trigger, lands a hook kick then goes for an OsCutter… but Omega blocked it only to take an errant head kick from Ibushi as duelling strait-jacket German suplexes forced the Golden☆Lovers to kick out at two! Ospreay tried for another OsCutter, but Ibushi stops him as Omega looked for a One Winged Angel, only for it to get switched into an IndyTaker as Tanahashi barely broke up the pin in time!

It wasn’t to be though, as the Golden☆Lovers took Tanahashi outside, before the Golden Trigger found its mark, leaving Ospreay down for the three count… and breathe. That was an undeniable banger of a match, breaking a long stretch of matches for New Japan that were good but not great. Then again, when you have four of the best in the world in a tag match to close out New Japan’s year… what did you expect? If you’ve skipped these shows, make sure you watch this main event – you owe it to yourself! ****¾

The show comes to an end with Kenny Omega singing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” as snow fell within Korakuen Hall, absolutely killing the picture quality as a bedraggled-by-snow Ibushi asked to tag with Omega again on New Year Dash.

So, that’s it for New Japan’s 2018. A remarkable end to a year that’s seen the end of Kazuchika Okada’s long title reign, his intervening breakdown and recovery as he struggled with the turncoat Jay White… a man whose actions have been pivotal to the entire company as the Bullet Club went through a civil war that fizzled out rather annoyingly… and that’s just the half of it! We enter 2019 with a tantalising Tokyo Dome card, with match of the year contenders sprinkled liberally throughout the line-up – but there are signs of discontent among the New Japan expansion, with the changes to how they tell their stories turning off some fans. Will the promise of good wrestling keep those from walking away, or will the new look, “more Westernised” New Japan start to slip in 2019? We’ll be there for the ride, that’s for sure!