A new year got off to a blistering start for New Japan in the Tokyo Dome – here’s our takes on WrestleKingdom!

It’s not even light outside as the pre-show begins! Kevin Kelly, Chris Charlton and Don Callis are on the English language call.

Gauntlet Match: The Elite (Marty Scurll, Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Jeff Cobb, David Finlay & Yuji Nagata vs. Best Friends (Chuckie T & Beretta) & Hirooki Goto vs. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer)) vs. Taguchi Japan (Ryusuke Taguchi, Toru Yano & Togi Makabe)
Our pre-show started with (for perhaps the final time in the Dome?) the Elite, as we had a gauntlet match for a shot at the NEVER trios title at New Year Dash tomorrow.

The trio of Yuji Nagata, David Finlay and the shiny singlet’d Jeff Cobb provided their first opponents; but it was Scurll and Nagata who started us off, swapping headlock takedowns and escapes until Scurll caught Nagata with a Just Kidding superkick. Nagata’s got a stalling dropkick of his own too, before he blocked a finger snap and pulled Scurll into a reverse figure four.

That’s quickly broken by the ropes, so Nagata tags in Jeff Cobb, whose eyes are instantly raked. Cobb fights off a three-on-one attack, but eventually the numbers game overwhelms as he took a standing shooting star press from Page, then a shooting star headbutt off the apron on the outside. As we see replays, the production crew miss a Buckshot Lariat as Cobb has to kick out…

Cobb slips out of a Rite of Passage and hits a suplex to get free, as we got to Yujiro and Finlay, with those two trading shots. Yujiro’s Fisherman’s buster gets a near-fall with Nagata breaking up the pin, before Chase Owens provided a distraction on the outside… one that backfires as Page catches him with a big boot. There’s a shoving match too, with Page knocking Yujiro into a roll-up from Finlay… and that’s the end of the Elite!

Next up: Hirooki Goto and the Best Friends… and don’t forget Chuckie T’s hair trigger during the World Tag League tour. Goto launches into Nagata as the bell sounds, and those two are straight in with forearms as the Best Friends took the other two to the outside. There’s a clothesline from Goto as he looked for a Shouten-kai, only for Nagata to counter into an armbar. The Best Friends break that up, but things go sour as Beretta’s plancha to Cobb on the outside’s caught… with Chuckie T making a save with a tope con giro allowing Beretta to hit an Asai moonsault onto Cobb and Finlay on the outside.

Back in the ring, Nagata and Goto are still going at it, with Goto scoring with an ushigoroshi for a near-fall, as the CHAOS team isolated Nagata for a spell. A double-team elbow drop from the Best Friends lands, only for Nagata to catch Beretta with a Shirome armbar… one that Chuckie instantly breaks up, to a chorus of boos from the Tokyo Dome. Nagata shrugs it off and catches Beretta with an overhead belly-to-belly, as tags took us to Cobb and Goto for those two to renew their feud from last year.

Goto’s taken into the corner for a leaping elbow before my feed gave out… it resumed with Goto going for a rear naked choke that turned into a roll-up for a near-fall. Another exchange ends with a discus lariat, before Cobb scores a pair of pumphandle suplexes to the Best Friends… at the same time! Finlay tags in to pick up the pieces, leaping into Chuckie with an uppercut off the middle rope, before Chuckie responded with a swift piledriver for a two-count.

With everyone else on the outside, Chuckie T looks for a moonsault on Finlay… but he crashes and burns as Big Dave scores another roll-up for the second elimination!

Our penultimate team is the Suzuki-gun combination of Minoru Suzuki and the KES, and of course we start with a brawl on the floor. Nagata’s quickly tagged in to kick away at Suzuki, who responds with palm strikes as the veterans showed no quarter. Suzuki slips out of an Exploder and catches Nagata with an Octopus hold, only for Nagata to throw his way out and land that Exploder for a near-fall.

Tags bring in Smith and Cobb, with the latter scoring an Olympic slam, only to miss a standing moonsault. Smith almost beats Cobb with Nagata’s own Backdrop Hold as Nagata and Suzuki continued to brawl on the outside… production almost misses another roll-up from Finlay, but he ends up eating a Killer Bomb as the KES finally eliminate the mix and match trio! So it’s KES vs. Togi Makabe, Toru Yano and Ryusuke Taguchi for the NEVER trios title shot…

Yeah, the dubber didn’t bother with replacing Makabe’s music, so Suzuki-gun jump them in the aisle, throwing Taguchi into a sound guy while Minoru went after the English commentary crew. In the ring, Smith catches Taguchi with a big boot and a legdrop for a near-fall as Chris Charlton throws us back to the days of the Most Violent Players – with Yano and Makabe teaming once again.

Lance Archer goes all high flying with a rope-walk forearm to Taguchi, tagging in Suzuki before making the leap. Unfortunately, Taguchi was as beat up as his tights, as he clearly didn’t spring for new Tokyo Dome attire… still, he scores with a hip attack before tagging in Makabe for some mounted punches in the corner. Suzuki shrugs them off and scores with a big boot, then a PK for a near-fall, before he and Makabe traded shots. My GOD, those clunking elbows ring throughout the Tokyo Dome. Makabe’s… not so much.

He manages to score a discus lariat before tagging in Yano… who gets distracted by his own partner. Not to worry, Yano gets free from Davey Boy Smith Jr. and goes for the turnbuckle padding, only for the KES to flood the ring and go for a modified Hart Attack.

Yano kicks out from that as the KES looked to get frustrated, following up with a sidewalk slam/big splash for another near-fall. Suzuki runs in and ducks a Makabe lariat as he went in search of the Gotch piledriver – only to eat a hip attack from Taguchi instead – as Yano tried to cheat his way to a win. Those low blows are blocked, but Yano manages to shove away the referee and hit duelling low blows to the KES as a roll-up gets the win… and Taguchi Japan go to Korakuen Hall tomorrow. This was a fun gauntlet in spots, but that last fall was a little tough to follow, save for the eternal story of Toru Yano outsmarting Minoru Suzuki. ***

Kevin Kelly teases some international New Japan dates, but first we’ve got hold music that makes me think I’ve paused Fire Pro for too long. Then we get the year-in-review video, before they announce some dates for 2019:

New Beginning in Sapporo on February 2 and 3
New Beginning in Osaka on February 11
New Japan Cup on March 23 and 24
The G1 Supercard in New York on April 6
Wrestling Dontaku on May 3 and 4
Best of Super Juniors final in Sumo Hall
Dominion on June 9 in Osaka
The G1 Climax 29 starts at the American Airlines Centre in Dallas, Texas on July 6
Then G1 dates culminating in Budokan on August 10-12
There’s also a London date… August 31 in the Copper Box Arena (a 7,000-seater arena)

The screen then intentionally dies as they were plugging next year’s WrestleKingdom… because 2020 will see WrestleKingdom AND New Year Dash!! inside the Tokyo Dome. That’s one way to sort out fast-selling tickets!

Well, that’s quite a batch of announcements!

NEVER Openweight Championship: Will Ospreay vs. Kota Ibushi (c)
When THIS is your opener you know it’s a stacked card.

Kota gets the old Rey Mysterio leaping stage intro, and we fire out of the blocks with kicks, avoidances and a HUGE monkey flip from Ospreay, who took Ibushi outside as he faked out a dive. Kota rushes back in to try a Kamigoye, but that’s blocked, as was an Oscutter effort as we’re staring down!

Ospreay misses a dropkick but manages to avoid a standing moonsault, before a second dropkick took him outside… where he recovered to kick away a Golden Triangle moonsault! Good Lord! Will’s dive sees him crash into Ibushi with a Space Flying Tiger drop, as they then slowed down the pace with Ospreay taking the fight to Ibushi with chops and uppercuts.

An old-school backbreaker dumps Ibushi on the mat for a two-count, but he’s back in with a ‘rana to take Will back outside, for a springboard corkscrew Asai moonsault! Returning to the ring, a springboard missile dropkick lands on Ospreay, before a high, bridging German suplex almost gives us our first head drop of the night.

A wheelbarrow roll-up from Ospreay gets a near-fall as Ibushi kicks away, only to get met with a handspring overhead kick. Ospreay has to put on the brakes as he went for a charge into the corner, but he’s able to catch Ibushi with a Cheeky Nando’s seconds later for a near-fall, as we’re back to the pair trading strikes… which they did with some gusto as Ibushi edged ahead with his elbows.

Ospreay slips out of a Last Ride powerbomb, before flipping over a clothesline as the never-ending counters ended with an enziguiri and a nice standing Spanish Fly from Ospreay! More breathless exchanges see Ibushi try – and fail – in a lawndart attempt, before he just waffles Ospreay with a Bomaye knee to the back of the head. Oof.

A Last Ride powerbomb from Ibushi’s good for a near-fall, but he takes too long following up as Ospreay clips him in the ropes, sending him into a Tree of Woe. A Tree of Woe where Ibushi is able to hit from, only for a barrage of kicks from Ospreay to leave him loopy (and still upside down), before Will just threw him back up into the ring post as the bloodied Ibushi had to elbow out of what looked to be an avalanche Storm Breaker.

Ibushi’s retaliation was a leaping double stomp off the top rope, then a deadlift German suplex to bring Ospreay in from the apron… but Will flips free! Cue the excellent camera work again, as Ospreay catches him with a Robinson special, only for an OsCutter to get blocked as Ibushi’s strait-jacket German gets a near-fall before he swung and missed with a Kamigoye.

We’re back to the clubbering, only for Ospreay to nail a lariat at short-range. He goes for a Storm Breaker, only for Ibushi to counter out into a package tombstone… which makes me shudder as the camera showed Will landing on his head. Another Kamigoye’s avoided as Ospreay retaliates with a hook kick, then a knockout elbow to the back of the head as they teased a referee stoppage.

Ospreay tries to pull Ibushi up into a Storm Breaker, finally landing the move as Ospreay dethroned Ibushi on the first defence. A really good opener, but also one that felt a little muted, perhaps not to overshadow the rest of the card. I’d love to see these two in a rematch going all out, perhaps headlining a New Beginnings card? ****¼

They show Ibushi being loaded onto a backboard as he’s stretchered out of the ring… and we carry on like nothing happened.

IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship: Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI & Shingo Takagi) vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (c)
A longer aisle means we hear “Roppongi 3K 3K 3K” more than usual… flashbacks to last summer…

Meanwhile, Desperado and Kanemaru are within touching distance of becoming the longest reigning junior tag champions… and we shoot out of the blocks again as Roppongi 3K go after the champions, then LIJ with duelling tope con giro. Kanemaru and Desperado cut off a second dive attempt, before Desperado grounds YOH with a chinlock that quickly ends in the ropes, as I’m thankful that Roppongi 3K ditched their half-and-half attire.

A kick from Kanemaru sends YOH to the outside… but he skins the cat off the bottom rope and lands a superkick as SHO comes in with clotheslines for all! It becomes a bit of a dropkick fest from there, with Roppongi 3K staying on top, only for Shingo to finally blind-tag himself in as he then stared down SHO… and my word, the Tokyo Dome liked that.

Shingo cuts off SHO with a back elbow and a clothesline, before SHO wriggled free and hit a stacked-up German suplex to Shingo and Kanemaru, who looked to take the landing badly. That sparked a Parade of Moves as the ring filled, ending with Roppongi 3K’s duelling leaping knees taking Desperado out of the match.

From there, SHO and YOH double-team Shingo with a backbreaker/knee drop combo for a near-fall, before they measure him up for a 3K… but Kanemaru and BUSHI tried for duelling sprays! They’re cut-off, as the production crew miss a double Pumping Bomber from SHINGO, who then finished off SHO with the Gory Bomb. Two more Pumping Bombers obliterate SHO, but he kicks out at two as BUSHI wipes out YOH with a tope suicida, as the Last of the Dragon dumped SHO in the middle of the ring… and that’s all folks! Shingo’s first WrestleKingdom saw him become the MVP of this match, which felt oddly truncated as Roppongi 3K were only there to eat the fall. ***¼

They announce here that New Japan’s running in Nashville on February 2nd…

Rev Pro British Heavyweight Championship: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tomohiro Ishii (c)
It’s the first time that Rev Pro’s been represented at the Tokyo Dome, and we go full-on authentic here as Chris Roberts is refereeing the match in a New Japan ref’s shirt.

Meanwhile, in his white tracksuit, TAKA looked like he was auditioning for a new boy band…

Ishii came out with the old Rev Pro title belt, and he’s instantly shoved by Sabre as he got into the ring. Chris Roberts calls for the bell, and we’ve got another jump start as Sabre ran in with a kick, but instead we’ve got swings and misses as he’s eventually met with a backdrop suplex. An attempted lariat’s countered into a rolling cross armbreaker, with Sabre clinging on until Ishii got to the ropes for a break.

Undeterred, Sabre keeps on the arm with a stomp, then with a wristlock as he tried to nullify any chance of a sliding lariat ever happening. Some kicks pepper Ishii, who tries to fight back with elbows, only for Zack to catch him in another triangle armbar, trapping the free arm as well as Ishii had to scramble to the ropes again.

There’s a solid kick to the back from Sabre, as Ishii looked to fire up, countering out of an ankle lock with one of his own. Chops are next as Sabre’s trapped in the corner, before a superplex somehow sees Sabre bounce back up and snap Ishii’s arm between his legs in a nice sequence. It’s back to the arm now as Sabre tweaks the wrist of the Stone Pitbull, who then tries to score with a low kick before another quickfire series ends with another Octopus stretch from Sabre.

Somehow Sabre flowed an attempted counter for that through into a Code Red (?!) for a near-fall, following up with a PK before he signalled for a Zack Driver… but Ishii blocks it. Sabre responds with mid kicks, but Ishii walks through them and chops Sabre down hard, before a folding powerbomb draws a near-fall.

A headbutt from Ishii is quickly followed with a lariat as Sabre tried to strike again, but Zack’s able to stop the momentum with a Pele kick to the arm before he leaps into a rear naked choke. Ishii rolls out of that, but his sliding lariat’s caught and turned into a Euro clutch for a near-fall. Another Euro clutch is countered into a lariat, before a sheer drop brainbuster from Ishii’s stopped with a front guillotine… except Ishii powered out, and found himself in another Octopus stretch!

Sabre grabs another arm as he rolls back into the double-armbar stretch – Hurrah! Another Year, Surely This One Will Be Better Than the Last; The Inexorable March of Progress Will Lead Us All to Happiness – and Ishii’s made to give up! ZSJ becomes a three-time Rev Pro champion, and leaves the Tokyo Dome with the belt that Andy Quildan tried to present to him… only for TAKA to snatch it. A lovely sprint of a match, but much like the opener, there was plenty of stuff left in the tank if we’re to have (yet another) rematch. ****¼

IWGP Tag Team Championship: Young Bucks (Nick Jackson & Matt Jackson) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & SANADA) vs. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c)
Commentary mentions All Elite Wrestling here without specifically naming it, while also wondering out loud if the Bucks even deserved this match. Oof.

The Guerrillas of Destiny had a remixed version of their theme here, which should stop highlighting the utter silences their entrances have. Bad Luck Fale and a ghostly Jado accompanied them to the ring, so expect shenanigans.

Since we’ve another three-way here, we start with Nick Jackson and Tama Tonga, but the latter offers a handshake as he’s now the “Good Guy”. Matt tags in, not believing that, while Tama’s handshake to EVIL counted as a tag as LIJ stormed the ring… then headed outside as Matt gets slammed onto the aisle by EVIL. Cue back issues, and cue a marathon-like sprint into a lariat on the ramp!

Tanga Loa tags himself in as he gets a slam and a near-fall on EVIL, before Tama lands a leaping neckbreaker as the Guerrillas quickly found themselves back in control. A swandive headbutt from Tanga Loa finds its mark, but the Bucks stop Tama from flying as they opened up their usual playbook of double-teams, including a rope-hung senton to EVIL, then a flipping onto-the-knee neckbreaker too.

A sunset flip sees Matt roll through into a Sharpshooter on EVIL while Nick wiped out SANADA on the outside. Tama Tonga stopped Tanga Loa from breaking up that hold, while pushing the rope towards EVIL for an easier break… which is odd. Still, Matt lands a superkick before EVIL wipes him out with a clothesline… and in comes SANADA to take some more double-teaming from the Bucks. Or so we thought, as he neuters Nick with a Paradise lock, as our crack production crew again miss the spot.

Can we send these guys back to Impact?

SANADA manages to catch everyone with planchas as he became a one man Buck-wrecking crew, which got the Tokyo Dome onto its proverbial feet for a spell. Back inside, a backflip out of the corner sees SANADA try for a Skull End on Matt Jackson… which leaves him open for a Blockbuster from Nick, who then ate a Tongan Twist as a Parade of Moves broke out. A spear from Matt puts down Tanga Loa, who them plays his part in a Tower of Doom that also wiped out referee Tiger Hattori, as a 450 splash from Nick finishes off the series.

With the ref still down, Jado tries to interfere… but Fale stops him as the Bucks hit superkicks. Fale charges through the Bucks with a clothesline, before EVIL took him outside with another clothesline. The Guerrillas regain their footing as they break up a LIJ Magic Killer, before a super powerbomb attempt’s broken up as the Bucks start to unleash more of those superkicks.

Tama Tonga counters a Meltzer Driver with a Gun Stun, before EVIL takes him out as a Magic Killer and a SANADA moonsault put down Nick Jackson… and we’ve another title change! That was fine for a three-way, but I don’t get the “good guy” Bullet Club routine. Still, this match could have been so much worse given all the moving parts, but we’re probably going to see LIJ/Bullet Club again in the not too distant future so enjoy LIJ owning the tag team divisions while it lasts. ***½

IWGP United States Championship: Juice Robinson vs. Cody (c)
Sadly, a clean-shaven Juice dropped his Macho Man robe for a Sergeant Pepper-like jacket…

We’ve another flash start as Juice opened up with Dusty punches, before Cody sold like he’d tweaked his knee as he flipped out of a back suplex. Juice is back in with a leg lariat though, then a spinebuster as Cody was having trouble early, walking into a Juice Box as this was beginning to feel a little squash-y.

Brandi Rhodes comes in to cover Cody as Juice went up top… and then she tried to sucker Juice into punching her. In the meantime, Cody went onto the apron, and catches Juice with an attempted Cross Rhodes… but Juice tried to counter into a Pulp Friction, only to get run into the ring post instead. Cody capitalises as he worked over the arm of Juice, as commentary called out him wearing Jacksonville Jaguars colours.

We’ve more shenanigans as Brandi Rhodes spears Juice – with her “bionic shoulder” (think Lex Luger). Referee Tiger Hattori throws Brandi out rather than call for a DQ, before Cody caught Juice with a Cross Rhodes for a near-fall. It feels like they’re rushing this…

Cody goes for the Dins Fire (vertebreaker), only for Juice to slip out… an attempted Pulp Friction misses, but Juice finds the mark with his own Cross Rhodes for a near-fall as the crowd was relatively silent. A Disaster Kick out of nowhere leads Cody into a Pulp Friction of his own for a near-fall, before he goes all Hulk Hogan on us by whipping Juice with his weightlifting belt.

Juice fires back with chops, but Cody’s got right hands in him… so we get duelling Dusty punches, before a big right hand from Juice set up for a Pulp Friction. Rather than go for a cover, Juice hits his finisher again, and that’s enough as he rolled over Cody for a lateral press… and that’s the win. A very flat match, and one that felt overly scripted rather than one that switched things up to adjust to the crowd. Are folks perhaps getting used to the run of title changes (and All Elite guys losing) as commentary all but called this Cody’s farewell. ***

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Taiji Ishimori vs. KUSHIDA (c)
Having feigned an injury as part of the build up to this match, I was sad that the Bone Soldier didn’t come out with his symbolic crutch. Meanwhile, “Doc Brown” had overly shrunk KUSHIDA as he got perhaps a final Tokyo Dome entrance, swapping out mini KUSHIDA for the big guy!

We don’t get a jump start this time, but KUSHIDA went to the arm early, kicking Ishimori’s limb as he was on all fours… following up with a cartwheel dropkick as he kept the focus on Ishimori’s left arm. KUSHIDA tried for a Hoverboard lock early, but it’s countered out of and into a Lebell Lock, forcing KUSHIDA to squirm into the ropes for a break.

Ishimori keeps up the offence with some chops, before the wacky rope running led to him scoring with a springboard seated senton to KUSHIDA. A baseball slide German suplex in the ropes catches KUSHIDA, as we almost miss a 450… Ishimori did, as KUSHIDA traps him in a cross armbreaker, then a triangle armbar before Ishimori pulled him up into a Fireman’s carry. That’s escaped as KUSHIDA goes for a Hoverboard lock, before Ishimori countered with La Mistica.

KUSHIDA tries to fight back with a handspring back elbow, but Ishimori caught him and switches it into a tombstone gutbuster… which KUSHIDA blocked as he then passed off Ishimori to the referee so he could kick away the arm. An enziguiri in the corner’s next, before KUSHIDA tried to roll through for a Back to the Future… but Ishimori counters into that tombstone gutbuster for a near-fall.

From there, Ishimori looked for a Bloody Cross, but KUSHIDA countered into a Hoverboard Lock, rolling Ishimori into the middle of the ring. That’s eventually countered out of as Ishimori rolled up and planted KUSHIDA with a death valley driver a la John Cena. KUSHIDA hit back first with a Back to the Future, but an attempt to hit the move back-to-back ends with Ishimori pushing him off… so KUSHIDA nails a big right hand, before he ran into a push-down stomp, as Ishimori measures up for a Bloody Cross. Wouldn’t you know it, that’s enough for the win and yet another title change! This was perfectly fine, but this match was missing something – and almost felt like the end of an era as the junior ace was comprehensively beaten. ***¾

Jay White vs. Kazuchika Okada
Our only non-title match on the main card was preceded by a lengthy video package of the Okada/White feud – as we’re all hoping that the Switchblade’s second trip to the Tokyo Dome was going to be an improvement on his first.

Much like Zack and TAKA earlier, Jay White and Gedo were all in white, while Okada returned to his classic theme. The Rainmaker is back, trunks and all!

We’ve got a measured start as the crowd was solidly behind Okada… so Jay White powders to the outside. Okada joins him out there, and loses the game of cat and mouse before he regained his composure and caught White with a low dropkick by the ropes. An elbow to the back of the neck follows, before Gedo tried (and failed) to trip Okada as White just throws Okada into the turnbuckles.

A Saito suplex sends Okada to the outside, going over the top rope, before White followed him there and wrecked the gate with an Irish whip into the barricades. The charges between the apron and barricades follow next, before White kept control back in the ring with another Saito suplex… only for Okada to hit the ropes and find his mark with a running back elbow! There’s more elbows in the corner as Okada eventually lifted White up top and dropkicked him to the outside, before shrugging off the attempted interference from Gedo, as Okada took him into the crowd for a long run-up and a crossbody block over the guard rails!

Back inside, a slam sets up Okada for a top rope elbow to White, and you know what’s next… Rainmaker zoom! White elbows out of a Rainmaker and lands a DDT, then a German suplex, before a uranage gets him a solid two-count. Okada blocks a Blade Runner, so he’s met with a clothesline as White then ties up the referee, allowing Gedo to slip in a steel chair. Okada ducks a chairshot, then shoves White into Gedo, before we get the classic Okada dropkick off the ropes!

Again, White blocks a Rainmaker and counters into a cobra clutch suplex, following up with a Kiwi Krusher for another two-count. A tombstone’s next from Okada, but he can’t follow up on it, and after countering out of a Blade Runner, he’s able to connect with another dropkick. White ducks another Rainmaker, but he still can’t get the Blade Runner off… and eventually eats a Rainmaker as Okada seemed to be pulling ahead! Just like that though, White slips in with a Blade Runner, finally hitting the move as Okada looked for one more Rainmaker… and there’s the win for Switchblade! You can’t even call it an upset given the wins that White’s picked up in the last 12 months, but there was something about this that felt like they were holding something back. For a moment, I thought White’s past year was for nought, but they didn’t build up Jay White to just put Okada over… and still Okada is looking for a true way back to the top. ****¼

Curiously, up to this point, nothing on the main card has broached the 20-minute mark. I expect both of the final two matches to change that…

No Disqualification for IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuya Naito vs. Chris Jericho (c)
This was made no-DQ after the events of the pre-show press conferences, where Jericho ended up powerbombing Naito through a table. My big issue with this match… why is it for the title, given how Naito’s been so dead against the Intercontinental title in the past?

This match was almost a year in the making, and started with Naito pushing Jericho off the apron, meaning we start with a guard-rail breaking whip by Naito, who then threw Jericho into the timekeeper’s table. They head up the ramp, where Naito crushed Jericho wish a nasty-sounding piledriver, before returning to the ring as Naito went all Yano on us, removing a turnbuckle pad and beating Jericho with it.

Jericho opts to whip Naito into NOT the exposed corner, which meant that the challenger could hit back with a ‘rana, before he clotheslined Jericho to the outside. Naito tried to fake out a dive, but changed his mind and shoved his head into a Kendo stick shot as I guess Jado left it behind earlier in the night. In the ring, there’s more Kendo stick shots for Naito, including one off the middle rope, before Naito tried to fight back… only to get lifted onto the apron for another shot.

A springboard dropkick knocks Naito to the floor as Jericho commandeered a camera for… reasons. He puts the boot to Naito then lands a suplex, before he made Naito ride the security gate as they brawled around the commentary desks, prompting Kevin Kelly to clear the decks as Jericho spiked Naito with a DDT! Jericho unceremoniously dumps Naito over the guard rails, before he scored with a crossbody back in the ring for a near-fall.

A Lionsault’s next in the ring, as was a backdrop suplex that the referee refused to count a pin on. Naito tries to fight back, landing a flying forearm off the ropes before he pulled Jericho into the ropes for an over-the-knee neckbreaker. That’s followed up with a more conventional neckbreaker for a near-fall, before Naito did the LIJ salute – which drew a smattering of boos from the Tokyo Dome crowd.

Jericho hits back, catching a Combinacion Cabron and turning it into a Walls of Jericho, but Naito spins free and walks into an enziguiri. Naito does shove off a Codebreaker and counters with a tornado DDT though, before almost dumping Jericho on his head with a Gloria for a near-fall. Destino looked to follow, but Jericho blocks and counters into another Walls of Jericho, only for Naito to find his way to a Kendo stick, which he uses to smash his way free.

Naito keeps hold of the Kendo stick and uses it on Jericho, sending him into the ropes as he nails a home run-like shot that was worthy of a replay. A second shot misses as part of the stick flew into the crowd, allowing Jericho to hit a Codebreaker for a surprise near-fall.

Jericho throws down the Kendo stick and instead looks for more plunder, in the form of chairs stashed under the ring. One of them’s jabbed into Naito, then smashed across his back, before Naito countered a powerbomb into a DDT on the chairs as he went wild, throwing the chairs out of the ring… only to turn around into another Codebreaker for a near-fall!

Naito’s regained the Kendo stick, but Jericho throws a chair at him as he was in the ropes. An attempted superplex is countered into a German suplex onto the chairs by Naito, before an attempted Destino is shoved away. Jericho pushes away the ref to mask a low blow as a Codebreaker gets a near-fall. Why are you hiding a low blow in a no-DQ match?!

Jericho goes outside and grabs his belt, but his belt shot misses as Naito lifts him into the exposed turnbuckle, before a Destino almost led to the title change! Naito looks to use the belt himself, and he clocks Jericho with it before a second Destino lands as we have yet another title change! Well then, we’re looking at a clean sweep aren’t we? This was as good as you’d expect for a New Japan plunder match, as the former Stardust Genius put away Chris Jericho following a year of torment. Did it make up for Naito’s goose egg last year against Suzuki? Almost… ****½

IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kenny Omega (c)
We’re starting Tanahashi’s 20th year in wrestling with him main eventing the Tokyo Dome… closing out a show that had seen zero champions retain as he looked to become the first G1 winner to successfully win the title at the Tokyo Dome.

Omega’s entrance had a nice 8-bit RPG feel to it, as he came out dressed like, erm, a One Winged Angel. Commentary notes that they have no update on Kota Ibushi, so I’m assuming his stretcher job was to keep him from cornering Kenny here… possibly giving a weakness to the champion, who did have the Young Bucks on hand.

We’ve got another tentative start as Omega and Tanahashi took their time over the opening lock-up, but Omega quickly got aggressive, taking Tanahashi into the ropes for some palm strikes, before catching Tanahashi in the ropes as he tried early for the One Winged Angel. Tanahashi slips out and into a Cobra Twist, but Omega hiptosses free as Tanahashi took it to the mat, looking to grapevine the champion’s leg.

In a deathlock, Omega and Tanahashi exchange palm strikes, leaving Kenny on his back as he had to scramble into the ropes for a break. Omega begins to fight back with forearms, but he’s caught with an uppercut before he responds with a kitchen sink knee to the midsection. With Tanahashi on the mat, Omega puts the boots to him, following up with an old-school pendulum backbreaker for a near-fall as Omega began to target Tanahashi’s lower back.

Tanahashi fights back with forearms of his own, but a chop stops him as Omega goes back with those shots to the kidneys. Kicks to the back follow as Omega slightly mixed it up, ahead of a back suplex that sent Tanahashi rolling to the outside. Another back suplex followed, with Tanahashi getting dropped onto the apron, before Omega whipped him into the guard rails… prompting Tanahashi to hit back with a desperation shotgun dropkick.

Omega responds by charging Tanahashi into the apron again, before slamming him over the railings and onto the Japanese commentary table. Ow. The crowd laughed when the camera picked up Milano Collection A.T. was flat on the floor… but Kenny picks him up after he moonsaulted off the railings into Tanahashi.

Omega grabs a table and mockingly claps out a “New Japan” chant on it. He takes an age to set up the table, allowing Tanahashi to come back over the barriers before he throws Omega back into the ring. Chops from Omega keep the momentum going his way, only for Tanahashi to mount a comeback, catching Omega with a Dragon screw, a shotgun dropkick and a flip senton off the middle rope for a near-fall.

Tanahashi’s taken outside as Omega prepped for the Terminator dive… but that’s cut-off as Tanahashi ran back inside and into a ‘rana, sending him back outside and into harm’s way as Omega lands the Terminator tope con giro – landing almost like Beretta did a few years back, splatting back-first onto the raised aisle.

Rather than take a count-out, Omega rolls Tanahashi back in and followed up with a missile dropkick to the back of the head, then with a snap Dragon suplex. A second one followed when Tanahashi popped back up, so we start with the V-Triggers. Expect more of them as the first one landed flush, before Omega scored with the Finlay roll… tweaking his knee on the landing as Tanahashi found an opening to make it much worse, landing a nasty-looking Dragon screw out of the corner.

The Twist and Shout neckbreaker’s next from Tanahashi as he moved onto a Cloverleaf, dragging Omega away from the ropes as he sat down on the hold. Somehow, Omega repositioned himself, but found himself in deeper trouble as Tanahashi managed to bust out a Styles Clash! A High Fly Flow was next, but Omega gets his knees up at the last possible second.

There’s more misses too, as a V-Trigger into the corner sees Omega hit the padding rather than Tanahashi, who responds with another Dragon screw to the compromised knee, before a Slingblade dumped Omega onto the apron. From there, Tanahashi puts Omega onto the table and tries for a High Fly Flow… but Kenny moves off as Tanahashi crashed and burned!

Again, Omega chose not to take an easy count-out, instead pulling Tanahashi between the ropes ahead of a double stomp off the top. A folding powerbomb’s next for a near-fall, so Omega repeats it… with no change in the result, before he pulled Tanahashi into a Dr. Wily Bomb for a third two-count in a row. Omega responds by just choking on Tanahashi in front of the referee, as he sized up for another V-Trigger, but Tanahashi counters with a Slingblade that ragdolled the champion before the pair returned to exchanging palm strikes and forearms.

Omega chained together a series of palm strikes as he had Tanahashi looking wobbly… a comeback in kind ends with Omega throwing some knees to the midsection as we crossed the half-hour mark, right as he lifts up Tanahashi into a deadlift German suplex. Somehow, Tanahashi’s right back up though, only to get caught with a Slingblade from Omega! Of course, he hops up top as he looked for a High Fly Flow… and nails it as Tanahashi kicked out at one!

We’re back to the V-Triggers on the jelly-legged Tanahashi, sending the G1 winner down to his knees before finally countering one with a low dropkick to the knee as he set up for a Dragon screw. Omega tries for a snap Dragon suplex, but instead lands a reverse ‘rana before almost sending Tanahashi through the ropes with another V-Trigger. The One Winged Angel looks to be next, but Tanahashi countered with a reverse ‘rana that caught everyone off guard.

A Dragon suplex sees Tanahashi bridge up for another two-count, as he seemed to find another second wind… heading back up top for a High Fly Flow, which finally landed as a frog splash cross body! The second High Fly Flow connects too, but Kenny’s up just before the three count! Tanahashi goes up top again, and this time eats one more V-Trigger as commentary tells us this has become the longest Tokyo Dome main event in history.

Omega joins Tanahashi up top as he set up for an avalanche Dragon suplex… and lands it as Tanahashi rotated and landed on his face! Kenny goes back to the V-Triggers, again by the ropes, before another One Winged Angel attempt is countered into a DDT! Another Slingblade finds its mark, as Tanahashi heads back up top for a High Fly Flow… and that… is… all! A clean sweep as the Ace regains his crown, with Hiroshi Tanahashi leaving the Tokyo Dome bloodied… but also the new IWGP champion!

This was an excellent, and fitting main event, even if it did threaten to get spammy at the end with the V-Triggers and High Fly Flows. A beautiful story of the classic overcoming the upstart, and remember – Omega never hit the One Winged Angel, so there’s still that out if we’re going to be able to make it to a rematch. Instead, we saw the first time ever that a G1 Climax winner “cashed in his briefcase” at the Tokyo Dome. ****¾

Post-match, Tanahashi thanked the crowd along with Katsuyori Shibata for helping him get back to the top of the mountain as we ended with a brief bit of air guitar!

In a weird way, this felt like the closing of a chapter in New Japan’s history, and not just because of the myriad of title changes. With speculation surrounding the futures of a lot of wrestlers on the card (Cody, the Bucks, Omega and KUSHIDA to name six who’ve been in the news), it’s quite telling that those who weren’t expected to hang around lost in quite comprehensive fashion. Whether some or all of those are red herrings remain to be seen.

WrestleKingdom 13 was a show with many highs, but perhaps wasn’t the lofty show people were expecting as they largely stuck to time. Nothing here bombed (well, aside from the Cody match, relatively speaking), but there were plenty of matches that felt like they could have been a little better. Regardless, this was a really good show, with five matches going over ****, but the overall feeling was that this wasn’t anywhere near the best show in recent Tokyo Dome memory…

We begin all over again tomorrow, with New Year Dash!! at Korakuen Hall – a show where many, many surprises are dropped and new storylines traditionally start as New Japan prepares for the year ahead. That show’ll be free on New Japan World for those wanting an early start on Saturday morning.