Pro wrestling fans from around the globe went out of their way to find New Japan Pro-Wrestling's biggest card of the year on Jan. 4 due to the mainstream attention created by future WWE Hall of Famer Chris Jericho's challenge of Kenny Omega. But those same new fans likely left Wrestle Kingdom 12, which included a thrilling main event between Kazuchika Okada and Tetsuya Naito, praising the roster and abilities of the entire NJPW roster.
While Omega-Jericho certainly lived up to its lofty expectations, the real story was the strength of the card as a whole as NJPW, which pulled 35,000 fans into the Tokyo Dome, continues to embark on its North American expansion in hopes of one day competing with WWE. Wrestle Kingdom 12 has to be considered a success as part of that journey, with one spectacular match -- heavy on in-ring action over theatrics -- after another over six-plus hours.
NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 12 results
New Japan Rumble: Japan's version of WWE's Royal Rumble saw the field increase from 14 to 21 for the fourth annual match. The only difference in rules are that pinfalls and submissions can produce eliminations, along with being thrown over the top rope. As expected, with so many legends and surprise entrants, the action was more clunky and fun than fantastic. There were plenty of nostalgic pops for the likes of Jyushin "Thunder" Liger, Tiger Mask, Yuji Nagata and Taka Michinoku, but the feel-good moment came in the form of the final entrant, Masahito Kakihara, who recently battled cancer. Kakihara and the crowd favorite Cheeseburger, best known for his work in Ring of Honor, became a surprising final two after they teamed up to hold down the ropes and simultaneously eliminate Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Ngata. In the end, the 45-year-old Kakihara used his legsweep/STO finisher, dubbed the Kaki Cutter, to pin Cheeseburger. Grade: C-
Field: Mashito Kakihara def. Bushi, Chase Owens, Cheeseburger, David Finlay, Delirious, El Desperado, Gino Gambino, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Jyushin "Thunder" Liger, Katsuya Kitamura, Leo Tonga, Manubu Nakanishi, Satoshi Kojima, Taka Michinoku, Tiger Mask, Toa Henare, Yoshi-Hashi, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Yuji Ngata and Yujiro Takahashi
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship -- The Young Bucks def. Roppongi 3K (c) via pinfall to win the titles: Talk about a fun match to kick off the main card. Not only were high spots aplenty -- which is all but guaranteed in a Matt and Nick Jackson match -- this one mixed in psychology and fun perfectly. The story involved the selling of lower back injuries as a double Tope Con Hilo spot from Roppongi early on saw Yoh favoring himself after landing hard on the floor. Matt, who effectively eliminated Roppongi manager Rocky Romero with a back drop on the ramp, began to favor his own back after missing a spot outside. Creative spots involving all four members of the match continued from there, including a double sharpshooter spot from Roppongi that saw Nick intercept his brother's arm to prevent him from tapping out.
Yoh turned in a tremendous performance overall by how well he sold his injuries and fought to avoid being pinned or submitted, including a kick out after a dual swanton spot on his back. After a fun spot late in which Sho and Nick took turns kicking each other's partner in the back, the finish was worth the build as the Bucks hit their Meltzer Driver finisher on Yoh. Matt followed up with a sharpshooter to produce the tap as the Young Bucks secured their seventh reign of the junior tag belts. Grade: B+
NEVER Openweight 6-man Tag Team Championship — Chaos (Beretta, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano) def. Michael Elgin & War Machine, Suzuki-gun (Taichi, Takahashi Izuka, Zack Sabre Jr.), Taguchi Japan (Juice Robinson, Ryusuke Taguchi, Togi Makabe) and the Bullet Club (c) (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa) in gauntlet match to win the titles: This one was physical, quick-moving and chaotic. Just as quickly as Suzuki-gun sent War Machine packing after Sabre choked out Raymond Rowe, Chaos ran in to force a quick elimination after a low blow from Toru Yano. Following a creative spot in which all three members of Taguchi Japan took turns landing running strikes on Yano as he was pinned in the corner, the comedic genius was able to turn the tables and roll up Ryusuke Taguchi for the pin. The defending champion Bullet Club then brought the violence after removing the turnbuckle pad. Beretta was able to kick out of a stun gun from Tonga late and hit his Dude Buster finisher to force the title change. Grade: C+
Elimination order: Zack Sabre Jr. (Suzui-Gun) def. Raymond Rowe (Elgin/War Machine) via submission; Toru Yano (Chaos) def. Izuka (Suzuki-Gun) via pinfall; Yano (Chaos) def. Taguchi (Taguchi Japan) via pinfall; Beretta (Chaos) def. Tonga (Bullet Club) via pinfall
Kota Ibushi def. Cody via pinfall: This one had potential to steal the show, and it sure did its best to try. Cody (nee Rhodes), a former WWE star, likely turned in the best match of his career and was certainly at his heel best in this one, perfectly marrying top-shelf psychology with the huge spots that have become Ibushi's calling card. While Ibushi got the crowd roaring with his picture-perfect Golden Triangle Moonsault, no spot was bigger (or more dangerous) than the Cross Rhodes that Cody hit off of the ring apron and onto the floor.
Cody, whose hair was dyed blond for an upcoming movie role, also did well in using wife Brandi Rhodes' constant interference as a key theme to the match. An early spot from Ibushi saw him land on the floor and accidentally knock over Brandi. Ibushi's babyface character showed plenty of compassion in comforting Brandi and picking her up just as Cody came in to slap him in the face.
Both wrestlers kicked out of big moves late as Cody hit a springboard hurricanrana from the top rope and Ibushi hit both his Last Ride powerbomb and a straight jacket German suplex. After Ibushi landed his stiff running knee, he followed with an absurd Phoenix splash to finally put Cody away. With Cody having lost his Ring of Honor world title in December, this match had nothing at stake but both delivered as if it was the main event. Grade: A-
IWGP Tag Team Championship -- EVIL & SANADA def. Killer Elite Squad (c) via pinfall to win the titles: The story here was all about the comeback as Los Ingobernables de Japon spent 90 percent of this match selling power moves and nearfalls. A Killer Bomb five seconds into the match nearly saw Smith pin EVIL as the destruction only continued from there. Davey Boy Smith and Lance Archer showcased their athleticism well for being so big, with the best spot coming from Archer's Spanish fly off the top rope on EVIL. A Saito suplex from Smith, complete with a bridge, nearly saw the match end before EVIL made a diving save to cancel the pin. SANADA kicked out of one final two count following a Killer Bomb from the champions. The finish saw a big rally from LIJ which included a Magic Killer on Smith and a breathtaking moonsault from SANADA for the 1-2-3. Grade: B-
NEVER Openweight Championship -- Hirooki Goto def. Minoru Suzuki (c) via pinfall in a haircut match: The psychotic genius of Suzuki's character was on full display here as he sadistically beat down Goto for the majority of the match (even kicking kicking away ring doctors). The storytelling was brilliant, helped by English color analyst Don Callis, as Suzuki twice refused to finish off a near-beaten Goto via sleeper hold and stubbornly came up empty in attempts to hit his Gotch piledriver. As expected with a Suzuki match, the action was simple and as visually stiff as possible.
The stipulation, at Suzuki's request, of no seconds being allowed at ringside only played a minor role in the end as both wrestlers so their respective factions run in, only to take each other out at ringside. Goto's late rally was perfectly set up as he landed combined a head butt and absurd super ushigoroshi from the top rope for two. He followed with one more head-butt and a pair of GTR's in the middle of the ring, including an added revolution on the final one to finish the 49-year-old off. An angry Suzuki initially left the ring after the loss, only to return with his own chair. He then grabbed the razor from Goto and shaved his own head before walking off. Grade: B+
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship - Will Ospreay def. Marty Scurll (c) [via pinfall], Hiromu Takahashi and Kushida to win the title: This beautiful disaster of wild spots, near falls and "oh $#!&" moments was the perfect showcase for what makes the division -- NJPW's version of cruiserweight -- so dynamic. Competed at a breakneck pace over the second half, you simply couldn't blink. The high-flying Ospreay largely played a game of "can you top this" in terms of spots as he followed Kushida's dangerous 450 splash off the top rope with a moonsault from the lighting tower. Kushida later hit an avalanche cross-armbreaker off the top rope into a triangle choke that Ospreay one-upped with a shooting star press onto the floor. Takahashi also hit connected on back-to-back sunset power bombs over the top rope and onto the floor.
The match's true story, personified by Scurll's line of "death, taxes and Scurll beats Ospreay" during the buildup, was well told, as was the constant tease of Ospreay's inability to hit his OsCutter finisher on the champion. Scurll was at his villain best in this match and hit Ospreay's finisher on him for two. Finally, Ospreay broke the curse to close the match by hitting an OsCutter for the 1-2-3. Grade: A-
IWGP Intercontinental Championship -- Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Switchblade: With a hard act to follow from the high-wire matches before it, this one regrettably became a popcorn match and was contested largely at a methodical pace. White, in the pay-per-view debut of his new "Switchblade" persona, failed to live up to showcase opportunity presented him as a sadistic heel. The match was ordinary and carried by the veteran "Ace," who handled the majority of high spots despite nagging knee and arm injuries. Takahashi hit a frog splash onto the floor early and used the same spot late for the finish. After connecting with a frog splash to the back of White's neck, Tanahashi then hit a second one to put White away. Grade: C
IWGP U.S. Heavyweight Championship (No Disqualification Match) -- Kenny Omega (c) def. Chris Jericho via pinfall to retain the title: The dream match that brought pro wrestling fans from around the world to NJPW's biggest show of the year lived up to expectations in a glorious marriage of storytelling and high spots. But what made this match an instant classic, in the end, was the combined effort, including the 47-year-old Jericho, as both men left it all in the ring to the point of exhaustion. Jericho, the future WWE Hall of Famer, was at his heel best by taunting Omega throughout, putting the son of referee Red Shoes Uno into a submission move and stealing a camera to take pictures of himself flipping it off. Omega, meanwhile, took the brunt of the high-impact moves, including a mid-match blade spot that left him bloodied. The only thing the match lacked was a storyline wrinkle that would suggest more is to come from Jericho, in both NJPW and as an ongoing foe for Omega and the Bullet Club.
After coming out the song "Judas" he recorded with his band Fozzy, Jericho did the majority of his damage outside the ring. Omega missed a springboard splash off the top rope and crashed through the announce table for the match's first big spot. Jericho followed by beating him with television monitors until Omega rallied and hit a double foot stomp off the lighting tower after laying a table across Jericho's body.
The second act of the 35-minute match may have been its best. Omega hit a textbook Tope Con Hilo onto the floor and after connecting on a trio of stiff V-Trigger knees, he countered out of the Walls of Jericho by using a cold spray bottle to the face. Jericho would go on to bust Omega open by pinning a chair onto the corner pad and repeatedly using it as a weapon.
The storytelling throughout continued to build the finish as Omega came up empty in his first two attempts at hitting his One-Winged Angel finisher with Jericho countering into the Walls (and eventually a Liontamer) on the second attempt. Once Omega finally hit his finisher, the match produced its most dramatic moment as Jericho grabbed the bottom rope with his hand to break the pin, similar to Kazuchika Okada in his 2017 rematch with Omega. The ending came when Omega kicked out of Jericho's Codebreaker and hit a second One-Winged Angel, this time on a chair, to put Jericho away. Grade: A+
IWGP Heavyweight Championship -- Kazuchika Okada (c) def. Tetsuya Naito via pinfall to retain the title: Naito was unable to complete a storybook ending to his four-year redemption story, but what a match he and Okada produced in teasing that he might. This one took longer to heat up and certainly wasn't as dependent upon high spots as matches earlier on the card. The absolutely electric finish, however, and how well the match built toward it, cemented its rightful placement as the card's main event. Okada, currently the longest-reigning champion in IWGP heavyweight history, traded one physical strike after another with Naito, including multiple standoffs in the center of the ring. The constant tease of both wrestlers reversing out of each other's finishing attempts played a huge role in the story, as did their respective kickouts upon the first attempt. In multiple cases later on, both wrestlers were so beaten upon landing their finisher that they were unable to attempt a pin.
The epic finish of this 35-minute match began when Naito countered a Rainmaker into his Destino, only to see Okada kick out. After Okada hit a dropkick and tombstone piledriver, and appeared to prematurely begin his celebration, Naito dramatically countered the Rainmaker once more into a Destino but refused to go for the pin. Instead, he went for one more Destino, which Okada countered into a tombstone, setting the normally resigned Tokyo crowd into hysterics. One more Rainmaker flipped Naito upside down as Okada secured the 1-2-3. As a way to sell the incredible effort he put in, Naito collapsed on the walkway after leaving the ring as Okada, in Japanese, gave him respect on the microphone for his efforts. Grade: A