Get your new wrestling year started right – with our review of WrestleKingdom 12 from earlier today… Alpha vs. Omega… Naito vs. Okada… which would steal the show?

Strangely, one of those matches seems to have attracted a large Western contingent to the Tokyo Dome this year, with one such traveller poking fun that “New Japan has drawn more Americans to Tokyo than TNA has to their US shows”. Ouch.

New Japan Rumble
Katsuya Kitamura’s out first, and I’m buffering already. Uh oh. We recover just after BUSHI hits the ring, and it’s the usual from BUSHI as he chokes the Young Lion Cup holder with his t-shirt for long enough that our next man appears… and courtesy of over-dubbing, we see Delirious!

Should I read anything into Kitamura growing a Suzuki-like mane? Leo Tonga’s next up, and he dwarfs Kitamura, which is a weird sight to see. A uranage nearly pins the Young Lion, as number five’s revealed as Manabu Nakanishi. Slow it down… although he’s bloody jogging to the ring! Number six is another Bullet Club guy: Chase Owens! I’d guess he’s going to be doing something else at New Year Dash!! as that’s a heck of a fly-out for just the Rumble.

Delirious exits first after a package piledriver from Owens – and a botched pin as the referee checked the shoulders extra closely… next up was Yuji Nagata as BUSHI was thrown out over the top rope. Nagata’s first move? To kick Leo Tonga in the arse…

After Nagata and Nakanishi renew their always-simmering rivalry, the countdown hits… and my feed dies! In the midst of this TAKA Michinoku comes out as we’ve had several eliminations, including Nagata and Kitamura, which makes me sad. Yoshinobu Kanemaru and his bottle of whisky comes out next ready to go after the only non-Suzuki-gun guy in the match, Owens.

The beatdown to Owens continues even more when El Desperado hits the fray. You think this is planned? Owens tried to fight back, but he’s sprayed in the face with whiskey before he’s eliminated over the top rope… and now we’ve got a Suzuki-gun trio waiting for… Jushin “Thunder” Liger. Uh oh. Shoteis for all! The Liger comeback left the Suzuki-gun trio reeling, but that Romero special left him wide open as the trio went to work over his mask. Another countdown brings out Tiger Mask for the save, but he too finds his mask at risk as Desperado takes him down and begins to unlace the hood. Tiger turns the tables as Kanemaru and TAKA are unawares, and Tiger almost does it…

More over-dubbing brings out an Australian – “Mr Juicy” Gino Gambino! It’s a debut here for him, as Liger and Kanemaru get eliminated. Gambino’s apparently a Bullet Club guy, and he obliterates TAKA with a lariat for a quick elimination. Well, thanks for coming Suzuki-gun! Another Young Lion follows as Henare, complete with face paint and tassles, hits the ring to go after his Oceanic brethren. Of course, Henare’s Samoan… am I watching TK Cooper here?

YOSHI-HASHI enters next but he takes his time to make it to the ring so he can show off his new ring gear. Number sixteen is out as David Finlay, and for some reason he goes straight for Gambino, getting an assist from Henare as a Stunner eliminates the Aussie. A dropkick in the ropes from YOSHI-HASHI gets rid of Henare, as Finlay then rolled up YOSHI-HASHI for the rather surprising pin to complete the ring clearing.

Just in time for Yujiro Takahashi to come out! Yujiro eliminates Finlay, who manages to skin the cat only to get clotheslined out over the top. So that’s a break for Yujiro, who thinks he’s won, except we have more… Cheeseburger?! Eh, it’s his annual appearance in this thing since he’s gotten cult status in New Japan. We’ve got even more entrants as Satoshi Kojima heads down, since there’s still names left in this roster.

Yujiro eats a Koji Cutter before replying with a Fisherman buster as he turns his attentions back to Cheeseburger for reasons. Hiroyoshi Tenzan’s next, bringing the Mongolian chops to Yujiro ahead of the entry of Masahito Kakihara, who’s bedecked in UWFI gear. We’re down to Tenzan, Kojima, Cheeseburger and Kakihara as the final four, but the latter two’s chops barely faze the former tag champs… they’re quickly eliminated though, so our final two are Cheeseburger and Kakihara!

Kakihara gets the win via pinfall, shrugging off a superkick and dropping Cheeseburger with a STO! A feel good story to open the show then, with Kakihara having been put over on English commentary as a cancer survivor. As for the match – well, it was more than a bog standard rumble, with some good stories being threaded throughout, but it was what it was. ***

A quick break to grab another coffee and have some breakfast later, and it’s main show time. The pre-show card rundown reveals that Cody vs. Kota is being called the “handsome battle”. Eh, it’s better than a “special singles match”.

The “proper” WrestleKingdom stage is rather grandiose, with random pillars marking the entry curtains on the way to a monstrous video screen. They’ve pulled out the big stuff for the Dome again.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson) vs. Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) (c)
If the Bucks win, they become 7-time junior tag champs – breaking their own record further.

Early on the Bucks were poking fun at how the champions were “young boys”, which played into them going for a Sharpshooter early… but YOH escapes and actually trapped Matt in one as the Bucks were forced to scramble for the ropes early. All the Sharpshooters!

There’s some lovely fluid series too as the champions seemed to be easing ahead, using some double teams as YOH’s knees were driven into one of the Bucks by SHO. The Beretta splat dive series follows as Roppongi 3K crashes and burns into the raised stage, and my feed dies again. It recovers in time for Rocky to take a powerbomb on the catwalk from the Bucks, before the challengers went after YOH’s injured back and all. Apparently during the time-out I missed YOH taking a German suplex onto the apron… and he takes an apron powerbomb too as the Bucks seemed to be focusing on that body part, because who can’t relate to having a bad back?

I’m pretty sure a lot of the Americans staying up late for this can…

Matt crashes and burns as YOH low bridges him to the outside, and it looks like it’s bad backs for all! Still, YOH’s kept isolated, with SHO doing the dummy thing of tying up the referee before Nick takes him off the apron as Matt tries to powerbomb YOH on the catwalk… right next to the still-recovering Rocky Romero. A back body drop gives YOH an escape… something that’s helped when Nick topes into Matt on the outside!

Finally SHO gets the tag in and he works away on Nick with a series of kicks, but Nick viciously elbows him before Matt tagged in to take some rolling Germans, culminating in a German duplex to both of the Bucks! The double team Dominator/Cutter nearly gets the win for the champs, but then we get a barrage of superkicks from all sides as Nick counters out of the 3K with ease.

We’re back to the bad back boys with Matt and YOH, but a powerbomb into the corner followed by a senton to an elevated YOH puts the Bucks firmly in control, ahead of a Sharpshooter from Matt. Eventually YOH makes it to the ropes despite some helping hands from Nick.

An attempt at More Bang For Your Buck nearly backfired as a crucifix counter from YOH got a near-fall, as duelling single-leg crabs put the Bucks in peril. They do the Revival’s “hold each other’s hands to stop them from tapping” deal before breaking the hold, and now it’s a mirror match as Nick and SHO kick their worn-down opponents right in the back. Good heavens, this is amazing stuff, and not the archetypical “flippy stuff and shtick” that I loathe the Bucks for.

Ah yes, that’s the cue for flips as a corkscrew moonsault to the floor wipes out SHO, as Matt and YOH try to finish things with their backs. YOH sprung back in after taking a superkick, but he couldn’t finish it off as the Bucks caught him with an Indytaker, before Nick grabs YOH in a Sharpshooter for the submission. Was he legal? Does that matter anymore? That’s definitely not the result I’d have gone for given how much of an impact Roppongi 3K made since their debut, but this was a cracking match to get the main show underway. ****

Gauntlet for NEVER Six-Man Championships: Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr., Takashi Iizuka & Taichi) vs. War Machine (Hanson & Raymond Rowe) & Michael Elgin vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & Beretta vs. Taguchi Japan (Ryusuke Taguchi, Juice Robinson & Togi Makabe) vs. Bullet Club (Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) & Bad Luck Fale) (c)
First up was the Suzuki-gun trio, who had Desperado and TAKA out to help contain Iizuka, as “Team Awkward” proved to be their first opponents – Michael Elgin and War Machine. Hoo boy. Yeah, we had the Suzuki-gun jump start, but Elgin quickly heads away so he can take Taichi and Sabre with the fallaway slam/Samoan drop combo.

Iizuka quickly takes a stalling suplex before a Hanson beard rub was responded to in kind with some biting. Taichi’s shenanigans follow as he whacks Hanson with the bell hammer, but the big guy’s able to make it away to tag in Rowe, who goes straight for Sabre with a massive forearm to the head. Shotgun knees keep Sabre down, as do another barrage of strikes, before the ring fills up.

Hanson heads up to the top for a moonsault… but Iizuka moves away as the Parade of Stuff continues, and ends with a pop-up slam to Taichi. Problem was, Taichi rolled the ref to the outside, meaning that interference to prevent Fallout was missed as Iizuka gets his funky oven glove. Elgin and Hanson take the shots, but Rowe does not… and he soon falls to a ref stoppage after Sabre tied up Rowe in one of his many arm/leg/choke combos.

The next team out were the CHAOS trio of Ishii, Yano and Beretta, and yes, there’s another jumpstart as Suzuki-gun meet them in the aisle. Taichi tries to out-do Yano, but fails as he tries to snatch a pin when Sabre PK’s the Sublime Master Thief. A near-fall follows as Yano manages to reply with a low blow and a roll-up after Iizuka tried and failed to use his oven glove again.

Taguchi Japan’s out next, with some more over-dubbing as we can’t have Led Zeppelin clearly heard on this thing. Or perhaps we can… Taguchi has a new blue tee, and a football for… reasons. Juice busts out a bunch of Dusty punches for all, before Makabe heads up for his mounted punches in the corner to Yano.

Taguchi tags in next for some trios offence to Yano, ending with a springboard hip attack that almost eliminated the CHAOS team. Chops put an end to some Dusty punches, before Yano steals another pin, avoiding a hip attack and rolling up Taguchi to put CHAOS in the finals against the defending champions of Fale, Tama and Tanga. Good luck!

So this is effectively the title match, and the Bullet Club trio walk over their opponents early, kicking them when they were down… and in the case of Beretta, planting him on the apron with a death valley driver. Fale accidentally charges into an exposed corner before Tama’s whipped into the same one as Tonga takes a pounding for a while.

Ishii tries to brainbuster Fale, but instead he opts to headbutt away before his switched up attempt at a German suplex backfired. Another headbutt from Ishii counters a Grenade, and it’s second time lucky as he gets Fale up for the suplex… but Fale’s barely affected as he’s able to come back with a Samoan drop to Ishii moments later.

Beretta eats the Guerilla Warfare, but the Guerrillas don’t go for the cover, instead looking to wear down Beretta further. Out of nowhere, Beretta’s attempt at a delayed moonsault’s met with a Gun Stun in mid air as the ring fills, then empties, as Beretta manages to get the upset pin on Tama Tonga, hitting hm with a Dudebuster as we have yet another set of NEVER six-man champs. Some parts of this gauntlet were great, but there was also a fair amount of fluff as we got to the headline story of Beretta getting his first achievement as a heavyweight. ***

Cody vs. Kota Ibushi
It’s Handsome Battle Time! Although I’m pretty sure that bleach blonde hair disqualifies Cody… ever the charlatan as the Bullet Club guy’s crystal-encrusted gear bears zero hallmarks of that group.

Despite losing the ROH title, Cody’s keeping up the “kiss the ring” gimmick, and he starts off with the archetypal headlock/shoot off/shoulder tackle stuff as Kota shows him he’s more than used to that intro. A snapping ‘rana took Cody to the outside, and I think we know what Kota’s doing next… dive!

The plancha accidentally wipes out Brandi as well, and of course Kota’s all shocked and distracted by that. Hang on, we’re getting the 1992 SummerSlam shtick as Kota played Rick Martel… but Cody punches him as it’s revealed to be a ruse. Back inside, Kota takes a Disaster kick for a two-count before trapping him in a Butterfly lock. Hey, where’s YOSHI-HASHI?

Brandi wanders into commentary to steal a chair, which Cody uses on Kota on the apron… but Ibushi overcomes and responds with a picture-perfect Golden Triangle moonsault! We get more old WWF throwbacks as they tried the Ultimate Warrior/Rick Rude finish, but Brandi’s caught as Ibushi frees himself and attempts to piledrive Cody on the apron. That’s blocked as Cody instead plants Kota with some Cross Rhodes off the apron to the floor. Dear GOD that looked nasty.

Is Cody trying to win the handsome battle by murder?

Kota somehow beats the count, but he’s barely able to get to his feet as Cody borrows some offence in the form of a top rope ‘rana for a near-fall. Cody takes too long with the Cross Rhodes as Ibushi counters by lawn-darting him into the turnbuckles, before unleashing with a barrage of strikes ahead of the Golden Star powerbomb to almost put Cody away. The Kamigoye looks to put the finishing touches on things, but Cody escapes with a lariat that nearly swung the match his way once more.

Another Disaster kick misses, before Cody headbutts away from a Kamigoye… but a strait-jacket German follows before Kota finally connects with the Kamigoye. He’s not done though, as Kota heads up for a Phoenix splash, and that’s plenty for the win. So, Kota’s challenging for a title after tonight then? This was easily Cody’s best match in a New Japan ring, and all he had to do was nearly kill someone with a finisher off the apron… ****

IWGP Tag Team Championship: Los Ingobernables de Japon (SANADA & EVIL) vs. Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer) (c)
It’s the World Tag League winners cashing in next, and EVIL’s got an ornate scythe now. It’s not plastic anymore…

We almost had a squash as EVIL took a Killer Bomb at the bell, but SANADA’s able to make the save as the KES were in control. EVIL can’t even stand as he crumples to his feet from an Irish whip, so Smith’s call to throw EVIL into the corner for a tag looked suspect… until you figured that it was just so he could slam SANADA from the ring to the floor.

It’s pretty brutal, and that’s just the beating they gave Hirai Kawato on the floor, as Archer followed up with a chokeslam on EVIL into the pile as the KES went back after SANADA in the ring. We’re definitely in the realm of “statement squashes” here, as the Ingobernables barely got a look in, to the point where the crowd were forced into an almost-stunned silence.

Smith mockingly used SANADA’s arm to tap as he held him in a rear chinlock, but it’s looking inevitable… except the KES are taking their sweet time, and a uranage gets a near-fall as Archer kept it going. Finally SANADA gets in some hope courtesy of a ‘rana, before tagging in a clearly worn-down EVIL, who looks a good step or two off the pace.

EVIL has to fight out of another Archer chokeslam with a lariat, before Archer somehow busts out a Spanish fly?! Good God, Will Ospreay, you’ve got to go some to outdo this big man. Smith tries to follow up with a moonsault, but he misses as SANADA gets a Skull End, but Archer’s quickly back for another thunderous chokeslam before a Backdrop Hold from Smith nearly ends it.

A Hart Attack stops EVIL in his tracks, before a second Killer Bomb only gets a two-count as somehow the Ingobernables found a way to keep on going. The EVIL STO drops Archer, before Smith’s caught with a Magic Killer as a brief LIJ flurry nearly ended it… SANADA then puts the icing on the cake with a Muta-esque moonsault as we have more new champions! That was weird… massively one-sided before the brief comeback at the end. I got the story of LIJ taking the beating, but there’s something here that didn’t click. Maybe it’s me not “getting” the KES, but I certainly appreciated their arrogance of going for the squash and getting caught out in the end. ***¼

Hair vs. Hair, No Seconds Deathmatch for NEVER Openweight Championship: Hirooki Goto vs. Minoru Suzuki (c)
It’s an overblown stipulation, as I’m sure nobody’s dying unless the clippers are rusty. Basically, Suzuki-gun and CHAOS are banned from ringside, as the loser gets his hair shaved here. I’m sure all of those stips will be adhered to…

Apparently Goto’s entry video was comprised of him getting beaten up by Suzuki-gun. Well, it’s only a slight change from the usual.

Suzuki’s not interested in a lock-up, as he just slaps Goto. It’s returned as the pair slug it out early, with Suzuki trying for an early sleeperhold, eventually lifting up Goto off the mat as he tried to strangle the life out of his title challenger. They bring the doctor in to check on Goto after Suzuki eventually lets go, and it’s a fantastic sell as Suzuki just stomps him out on the mat. Instead of going for the win, Suzuki just threw Goto to the outside as we got the obligatory guard rail and chair usage, all while the English commentary painted this as another potential blow-out. Finally the doctor checks on Goto… and that seems to fire him up as Suzuki just laughs at the Goto comeback.

A running boot into the corner from Suzuki looked to keep things going, but Goto again tries to fight back, catching a PK and eventually working up into a bulldog out of the corner. More strikes take us into an ushigoroshi, but it’s countered into a guillotine by Suzuki… then a rear naked choke before the Gotch piledriver is escaped.

Suzuki tries it again and it’s escaped again as Goto hits an ushogoroshi, and now there’s interference as Desperado and TAKA hit the ring. Kanemaru and Taichi too, but YOSHI-HASHI intercepts Taichi’s ridiculous sneakers as the distraction backfired… or did it? A thunderous dropkick to the jaw dumps Goto, before an unholy barrage of palm strikes and slaps weaken Goto some more, as another rear naked choke almost forces the stoppage.

Instead, Suzuki goes for the Gotch piledriver again, and it’s again blocked as Goto escapes and blasts Suzuki with a lariat in the corner. Minoru comes back with cracking headbutts in the ropes, but his attempt at a guillotine choke on the top rope is rather predictably countered into an avalanche ushigoroshi.

Goto tries to go for the GTR, but that too is stopped with more strikes, before a clunking headbutt from Goto puts Suzuki down. That headbutt’s very remniscent… and before I can say any more, Goto rushes in with the GYR and GTR… and that’s it! Goto gets the belt, and I believe there’s some shaving to do… See, without the Suzuki-gun shenanigans, Minoru can still go in the ring and tell a hell of a story without needing the shortcuts. Minimialism! ****¼

Suzuki-gun stayed at ringside, and quickly carried Suzuki to the back… but the brave referee shooed them away as Minoru willingly headed back to the ring. He’s come with a chair, which he sits on as Suzuki shaves away most of the mane at the back of his head, all while the crowd chanted his name.

They run through the New Japan calendar for the rest of the year, including the March 25 show in the US, April 1’s Sakura Genesis, the Wrestling Dontaku trio of shows, Best of Super Junior 25 (starting May 18)… Dominion on June 9, the G1 running from July 14 to the final on August 10. The final 3 days of the G1 will take place in Budokan Hall, which is a bit special…

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi vs. KUSHIDA vs. Will Ospreay vs. Marty Scurll (c)
Hiromu went all Rey Mysterio on us, and not just because Daryl was back with a lucha mask! Heck, everyone had their big show gear, including KUSHIDA’s shiny, even more Back to the Future inspired stuff, while Will’s got spikey blue gear. I guess he’s already done the Spiderman stuff?

Marty used the Hiromu trapdoor too, as he’s grown wings. It looked ridiculous, and it’s up to you how you read that!

Scurll heads outside to watch from the floor as Ospreay and KUSHIDA rekindle their past encounters… but of course, Marty’s on hand to run in and break up pins. Well, it’s better than just “resting” on the outside.

Hiromu tried to steal it with a roll-up of his own, but of course everyone’s breaking up covers as the breathless pace continued, with Ospreay sneaking ahead. Scurll’s next, stamping on Hiromu’s hand before going for a superkick off the apron, as KUSHIDA decides to fly with a flip senton off the top rope and into the aisle.

They head into the crowd as Ospreay climbs a lighting rig and moonsaults into the other three below, before taking KUSHIDA back in and locking the gate… as if that’s that much of a barrier! A diving dropkick into KUSHIDA keeps Ospreay ahead, but his standing shooting star press is met with an inside cradle for a near-fall, before a springboard’s met with a cross armbreaker from KUSHIDA.

Scurll returns to try and steal the pin, as we get duelling submissions as Scurll and KUSHIDA tried to eke out a win with their finishers. Scurll broke his so he could superkick away KUSHIDA and keep the match alive… leading to a Just Kidding superkick as KUSHIDA again fell for it.

That seemed to be the cue for the tempo to raise, but Ospreay’s rope-running just led to a series of clotheslines as all four men crashed to the mat. It turns into a four-way slugfest from their knees, before Ospreay tried to sneak in an OsCutter to Scurll… who catches it and turns it into another chicken wing as the bodies continued to fly all over the place, with KUSHIDA being sent into the turnbuckles via an overhead belly-to-belly.

Hiromu’s forced to take a Cheeky Nando’s as he went for a superplex… but Scurll gives some to Ospreay too as everyone tries to superplex KUSHIDA. Another shooting star from Ospreay’s met with a cutter, then a Blackheart buster as Scurll tried to get another win over his rival… picking up near-falls from that and an Oscutter of his own.

With his plan A failing, Scurll goes to plan B – which involved taping Hiromu to the guard rails. Hey, someone’s watched his Yano tapes! Back inside, Scurll tries to snap the fingers of KUSHIDA and Osprea, but they turn the tables on the Villain before KUSHIDA takes Ospreay down off the top into a cross armbreaker, then a triangle choke as Will’s forced to hold on… which he does as he powerbombs free.

Scurll’s back for more tape as he does a self-repair, then grabs some powder which gets flung into KUSHIDA’s face… but it’s no-sold and met with the Back to the Future as a Revolution kick from Ospreay barely saved the three count! Somehow Hiromu’s freed himself to bring the insanity back, throwing sunset bombs to put Ospreay and Scurll through the guard rails. Jesus…

Hiromu keeps up on Scurll, but a Time Bomb doesn’t get the job done as the pair start to counter each other’s counters, before Ospreay returns to help wear down Hiromu with superkicks. They actually work as a unit, teasing a double-team OsCutter, but instead it’s countered into a Time Bomb from Hiromu, who follows up with a missile dropkick to Ospreay for another two-count.

Scurll takes a death valley driver on the apron before KUSHIDA gets redemption, courtesy of a sunset bomb to Hiromu on the apron! Ospreay throws himself with a shooting star press to the floor, before rolling Takahashi back in for an imploding 450 splash… but that too is only enough for a near-fall! Another OsCutter misses as Hiromu follows in with a lariat, before one more Time Bomb would have won it… but this time Scurll pulls out the ref!

The umbrella comes into play as Hiromu and KUSHIDA get waffled by it, before Ospreay ducks another shot and hits a standing Spanish Fly. Another OsCutter later, and Will’s broken the curse – he’s regained the title, and there’s the moment some would have argued he should have had a year ago when that crowdfunded documentary was being filmed… ****½

IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Jay White vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (c)
Well, this is a hell of a return match. Gone is the “blue eye” babyface Jay White, and in his place is Switchblade… a man who’s fed up of the Ace being, well, the Ace.

White starts with a tie-up as he looked to go after Tanahashi’s knee in the corner, but the Ace is able to shrug it off as he goes after Jay’s arm before taking him outside for a missed plancha… a plancha that looked to cause extra damage to the already-injured knee. Of course, White takes the opportunity to work over Tanahashi on the floor, tying is knee into the guard rails before snapping into Tana back in the ring with a Saito suplex for a near-fall.

White keeps it up with a Zack Sabre Jr-esque submission that forces Tanahashi to grab the ropes, before Tana tried to leap over the back of the New Zealander… only for his knee to buckle again. Tanahashi eventually grabs a leg for a Dragon screw, before working up into a middle rope senton as the champion seemed to be easing back, with another Dragon screw to White in the ropes increasing the torque on the knee.

More of those weaken White some more, taking the Kiwi outside for a High Fly Flow that looked to hurt Tanahashi’s knee some more. Back inside, White hits back with a deadlift German suplex, then a brainbuster on the apron, before climbing down off the top rope as Tanahashi rolled away from any more offence. The crowd booed that particular choice…

Instead, White drives knees into Tanahashi in the corner before standing on the body part, demanding that Tanahashi “showed him the Ace”. Oo-er… Tanahashi fires back, only to get suplexed into the corner as White throws more suplexes, ending with a roll-through death valley driver for a near-fall. Jay goes back up top, and misses a missile dropkick as Tanahashi goes for a grounded Dragon screw, before catching Jay up top for for a swinging neckbreaker out of the corner!

Some shots from Tanahashi send White staggering into the ropes, but he replies with a Dragon suplex, only to turn around into a series of Slingblades for a solid two-count. Tanahashi adds to that with a High Fly Flow, before missing a second as White countered with a crucifix on the mat as he tried to force a stoppage with elbows to the head.

White throws in a Kiwi Krusher, but Tanahashi kicked out as we entered the business end of things, with White taking a High Fly Flow to the back of the head… a frog splash version follows, and that’s it! Well… if you come at the Ace, you’d better not miss. Jay White did, so now I guess… what’s next? In fairness, White is still raw, but I’d have put this match before the insane four-way as this just felt flat in comparison… or better yet, not have White debut in this gimmick on such a big stage. It’s not a Super Liger-esque bomb, but it’s not ideal. ***½

No Disqualification match for IWGP United States Championship: Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega (c)
Speaking of Super Liger, it’s the “western” main event, I guess, as Chris Jericho returned to New Japan for the first time in over 19 years. Judging by the live reaction, this may be a pretty big match for “locals” too…

Chris had his light-up jacket, but they missed a trick by not having a live band for him.

Kenny Omega one-upped his entrance from last year with a wacky helmet and cape… and of course he had lackeys out with him in the form of the Young Bucks. Expect shenanigans.

Jericho jumped Omega as he was hugging the Bucks, but this quickly becomes a pull-apart as the Young Lions stop it for some reason. They resume, and it’s straight into a knock-down brawl, which Omega edges out on as he chopped Jericho with some venom… at least until Jericho uses the ref so he can sneak in an eye rake. In a no DQ match.

Omega tried for a ‘rana, but Jericho catches him and turns it into the Walls of Jericho… but he clings on despite Omega reaching the ropes because it’s no DQ! Omega frees himself as he throws Jericho out for a baseball slide… but it’s caught, before a second baseball slide sent Jericho into the commentary table for the traditional flying body press that saw Kenny crash and burn through the table!

Whomever’s iPhone was left laying… you had a lucky escape there!

Jericho capitalises with a Walls of Jericho to a laid out Omega, before laying out referee Red Shoes… and then putting his son Shota Umino in the Walls of Jericho. Hey, it’s a family affair at least!

Omega gets some retribution as he throws a monitor into Jericho as the English language feed died with their equipment, before the pair fought around the Japanese commentary area. Good job they don’t have Spanish teams… or French… or German… or even Mandarin…

Omega keeps up the pressure as he leaps off a lighting stand to stomp a table through Jericho – with the table luckily not buckling – before Jericho responds with a suplex from the guard railings into the ringside area. For some reason they start the count-out, which Omega narrowly beats to keep his title alive… before his attempt to springboard into the ring was rudely halted via a Jericho dropkick as Kenny was hung in the ropes.

Jericho sets up a table on the outside as they tease a powerbomb, but instead he dumps Kenny on the floor rather than the hardware. In the meantime, Jericho throws some chairs as they headed back to the ring, where Jericho kept control until he connected with a Lionsault ahead of a delayed near-fall attempt.

The Omega fightback begins as he clotheslined Jericho to the outside… and I think the crowd knows what’s next… Terminator dive! He followed up with a Kotaro Krusher back inside as Omega started to raise his game some, countering a Walls of Jericho before rocking him with a V-trigger. Another counter follows as Jericho slips out of the snap Dragon suplex and turns him into another Walls, which Kenny broke by using the referee to help claw his way into the corner… and eventually into the reach of some freeze spray which he used to blind Jericho.

Despite being blinded, Jericho was able to pull Omega into a chair he’d wedged into the ropes earlier, before mocking a crowd that were really turning on the former WWE star. Another throw into the chair knocks the seat pad out, leaving Omega bloodied as the match sailed past the 20 minute mark.

A seeming low blow from Omega gets him some breathing room as he pulls off some snap Dragon suplexes, before lifting Jericho into a One Winged Angel… which is turned into another Dragon suplex as Jericho popped straight back up to whack the remains of that chair from the corner over Kenny’s head. More chairshots to the back follow, but Jericho gets too cocky and has a chair dropkicked into him… before a V-trigger sent Jericho flying off the top rope and through that table from earlier.

Back in the ring, Kenny throws some more V-triggers, then a Jay driller as Omega started to collect those two-counts. Jericho turns a One Winged Angel into a Victory roll, then into some more Walls… and finally an old-school Lion Tamer! Still, Omega clings on, again literally, before making it to the ropes as Jericho relinquished the hold for… reasons.

We’ve gone past half an hour now as Jericho looked for a Code Breaker, but instead he takes a pair of V-triggers before Omega plants him with a One Winged Angel… but Jericho grabbed the bottom rope just in the nick of time! Omega tries to fly, but he’s instantly crotched up top, before he stopped a superplex tease by just driving Jericho’s head into the top turnbuckle.

Eventually Jericho hits a Codebreaker after avoiding the moonsault out of the corner… but he’s slow to make the pin and so Omega gets a shoulder up! Jericho tries for another Lionsault, but Omega throws a chair at him… causing him to freeze in the ropes before he’s dumped onto the chair with the One Winged Angel… and that was unexpectedly brilliant. I wasn’t thinking this would be bad, but Jericho damn near hit a home run when there were several thinking he’d come nowhere close. Perhaps a touch too much like a WWE match for purists, but this is was something extra special. ****¾

IWGP Championship: Tetsuya Naito vs. Kazuchika Okada (c)
Apart from the Destino vs. cobra clutch battle, a lot of the build-up to this featured Naito from four years ago – where he had the same opponent, but had this match in the semi-main event after a fan vote. So if you’re wondering where the chip on the shoulder came from… there you go.

There was a healthy smattering of boos among the 35,000 crowd to compliment the cheers for Naito, ahead of the appearance of Okada’s funky new trousers, who’d just eclipsed the record for longest combined reign as champion (beating Tanahashi by two days as he entered day 1,360 with the belt in total).

Naito wasn’t in any rush to get underway, but when we did get going, he avoided a back senton from Okada before rolling into a tranquilo pose to try and get under the champion’s skin. It didn’t quite work, as Okada remained undeterred, and dropkicked Naito off the top rope to the floor as we received our obligatory guard rail spots.

Naito makes use of the raised ringside area, as he catches Okada by the throat, then the back of the neck across the guard rails, before hitting another neckbreaker, this time dumping the champion on the apron. It’s rather methodical stuff from Naito, rather than frantic, as he leaned into the corner outside-in dropkick and another neckbreaker to keep Okada on the back foot.

A simple cravat keeps Okada down, but the champion’s able to snap back with a DDT that stacked Naito on his head. They headed outside as Okada blasted Naito with a running boot before going for the neck again with a draping DDT off the guard rails as Okada went tit-for-tat in terms of picking a body part to wear over. Just like that though, Naito hits back with a scoop slam into a reverse DDT, before Okada flipped out of Gloria and came back with a flapjack instead.

More neck trauma followed for Naito with a neckbreaker slam out of the corner, before going to the bodyslam, elbow drop and… Rainmaker pose! The cobra clutch is attempted next, but Naito escapes as they counter and counter back into the clutch, with Okada dragging Naito to the mat as he looked to force a submission, holding on as Naito tried to hiptoss free.

Eventually Naito gets enough in him to scramble to the ropes, and that seemed to give him some impetus as he took Okada onto the apron… and dragged him back in with a neckbreaker on his way into the ring. A reverse ‘rana off the middle rope keeps it up, but it’s still only a near-fall as Okada heads up for Gloria before missing a Stardust press!

They go back to the tit-for-tat strikes, but Naito edges ahead with a Koppo kick… only to get met with a shotgun dropkick as Okada refused to stay down for too long. Okada tries to make a point with a back senton off the top, but he crashes and burns as Naito tries for the Stardust press once more… but he too is caught with Okada dragging him down into a high-angle German suplex! Okada holds on too and eventually turns Naito into a Rainmaker for a solid two-count!

A tombstone attempt follows, but Naito escapes, only to whiff on an enziguiri as Okada looked to be firmly in control once more. Of course, that’s the curse as Naito out of nowhere lands Destino, but he can’t even attempt to make a cover as both men fought to climb back to their feet.

More strikes seemed to buckle Okada, as a tornado DDT underscored that… and is it time? Destino? No! Okada counters into a Rainmaker, and clings onto the wrist once more… but a second Rainmaker is ducked and met with a Destino for a 2.99999 count! Holy hell, this is heating up!

Okada cuts off another Destino with almost desperate strikes, before waffling Naito with a trademark dropkick, and follows up with a tombstone. That’s not gonna get the win, it’s not gis finisher… and sure enough, Naito goes for the Rainmaker again, but it’s countered into a Destino! Another Destino? No! Okada counters into a spinning tombstone, then another Rainmaker… and against all predictions, Okada retains! Yeah, I’m not too sure about the result, given that Naito comes up short yet again, but I felt that the somewhat lacklustre build to this perhaps didn’t justify a title change in the end, regardless of the classic that unfolded in front of us all. *****

Usually these big events have something on the undercard that anchors them… not this year’s WrestleKingdom. When the “bad” match involves a new act that didn’t quite click, or a gauntlet that rarely comes off well, you know you’ve got a fantastic show on your hands. With something for everyone, from the flippy stuff, to WWE-style, to a truly epic war, WrestleKingdom 12 quite possibly has show of the year locked down… and it’s only January 4!

Sure, the show doesn’t have the attention-grabbing match that robbed everyone of superlatives like last year, and some will undoubtedly gripe over the result of the main event, but bell-to-bell, the story of Okada beating all comers remains an outstanding one. With New Year Dash!! tomorrow, things usually change as the table gets set for the rest of the year.