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NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 18 Preview and Predictions

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 18 Logo

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 18 Logo
(Credit: NJPW)

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 18 Preview and Predictions

January 4th is fast approaching and you know what that means, it’s time to travel to the Tokyo Dome in Japan for NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 18! Every year, New Japan Pro Wrestling hosts their annual Supercard on January 4th to set the tone of the company for the rest of the year, and this year looks to be no different.

During the cursed “pandemic-era” of the company over the past few years, NJPW has still managed to churn out match of the year candidates on a fairly regular basis. However, as full attendance returned in 2023, the company began firing on all cylinders again, so going into their first event of 2024, expect big things from Japan’s biggest company.

There are 11 matches currently scheduled for Wrestle Kingdom 18, and since it’s the first big event of the wrestling calendar for 2024, let’s run down the card and see where New Japan Pro Wrestling could go in the next 12 months.

New Japan Ranbo to determine who will challenge for the Provisional KOPW 2024 Championship:

The annual pre-show match for Wrestle Kingdom is the New Japan Ranbo, a Royal Rumble-esque battle royale where a number of NJPW’s stars who haven’t been booked on the show try and get their year off on the right foot. However, unlike a traditional battle royale where one man will be left standing, the final four will advance to “New Year’s Dash!!” on Jan. 5th to determine the first King of Pro Wrestling Champion of the year.

None of the participants have been announced at the time of writing, so this prediction will be a complete guess. However, given that he ended 2023 as the KOPW Champion, I suspect that Taichi will be one of the final four. As for the other winners, I’m just going to guess the ever-reliable Tomohiro Ishii (why hasn’t he got a match?), Toru Yano who always seems to find his way into the KOPW Title picture, and for a bit of foreign flair, Jeff Cobb can round out the winner’s circle.

PREDICTION: Jeff Cobb, Taichi, Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano

Bullet Club War Dogs {c} vs. Catch 2/2 [IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship]:

Kicking off the main portion of the show will most likely be the Junior Heavyweight division, a fairly standard practice for a Wrestle Kingdom card. The belts are currently held by Drilla Moloney and Clark Connors of Bullet Club, collectively known as the “Bullet Club War Dogs,” but they will have a tough test ahead of them as they take on the two-time champions TJP and Francesco Akira, Catch 2/2.

Akira and TJP walked into last year’s Wrestle Kingdom event as the champions and successfully defended them, but were eventually dethroned by Moloney and Connors in July. Since then, the Bullet Club War Dogs have defended the belts three times and have even had custom belts designed for themselves.

The young guns of Bullet Club broke out in 2023 as forces to be reckoned with, and I feel as if a win here would cement them as a team to watch out for on a global level in 2024.

PREDICTION: Bullet Club War Dogs

Zack Sabre Jr. {c} vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi [NJPWWorld Television Championship]:

It’s been one full year since Zack Sabre Jr. became the inaugural NJPWWorld Television Champion, and he has made that belt his own. Each match has a 15-minute time limit attached to it, and ZSJ has become the master of busting out moves and counters in these sprints to catch his opponents off guard and retain his crown. However, this will be his biggest challenge to date.

Fresh off being announced as the new president of New Japan Pro Wrestling, Hiroshi Tanahashi will attempt to win one of the few titles in NJPW that he is yet to hold. The former ace of the company doesn’t move as well as he used to, quite frankly I’m amazed that his knees are still able to bend in a human way. But even if he puts on a good performance in the Tokyo Dome, it will be no match for The Frontman of TMDK and Zack will retain his title before the time limit.

PREDICTION: Zack Sabre Jr.

Yota Tsuji vs. Yuya Uemura:

A battle of two NJPW stars who returned from excursions in 2023. Yota Tsuji has already wowed audiences in New Japan since returning from RevPro in the United Kingdom, becoming a member of Los Ingobrenables de Japon and asserting himself as a potential future world champion.

Opposite him will Yuya Uemura, a young man who spent most of the last two years of his career in the United States in companies like Impact Wrestling, AEW and GCW, who recently became the newest member of Just 5 Guys.

These two men had their very first professional match against one another six years ago, so putting them in a singles match at Wrestle Kingdom 18 clearly means the company sees these two as potential rivals for years to come. As far as who will win, it will be close, maybe a little short considering the rest of the matches on the show, but taking momentum and potential into consideration, I can certainly see Yota Tsuji picking up the win with a devastating spear.


Shota Umino and Kaito Kiyomiya vs. House of Torture:

For those who are new to NJPW, no one likes the House of Torture. They are an off-shoot faction of Bullet Club, and even their own faction doesn’t like them half the time. They recently recruited the ‘Son of Strong Style’ Ren Narita, who will team up with former IWGP Heavyweight Champion EVIL to take on two of Japan’s most exciting young stars.

Shota Umino was another man who had a breakout year in 2023, with his match against Will Ospreay in November being a particular highlight. Kaito Kiyomiya is still technically a member of the Pro Wrestling NOAH promotion, but has been appearing more regularly for New Japan in recent months. Shota and Kaito even picked up a win over all six members of the House of Torture in an elimination match on the recent NOAH “The New Year” show on Jan. 2nd. It’s because of this recent loss that, despite it not being what fans would like, the House of Torture will probably end up winning here.

PREDICTION: House of Torture

Shingo Takagi {c} vs. Tama Tonga [NEVER Openweight Championship]:

If there is one man who thrives when he has a championship belt around his waist, it’s Shingo Takagi. The former IWGP World Heavyweight Champion has bounced around the midcard of NJPW for the past few years, which is a shame considering how talented he is. He defeated Tama Tonga back in October to win the NEVER Openweight Championship, and after the two men had a time-limit draw in the G1 Climax last year, this will essentially act as a trilogy match.

Despite having three reigns with the title, it still feels like Tama Tonga hasn’t had that defining reign with the NEVER Openweight Championship. All three of his reigns have been wrapped up in his feud with members of Bullet Club, and the second he got a fresh challenge, he lost the belt. However, if there is anyone on the Wrestle Kingdom card who will walk into their match with a purpose, it’s Tama Tonga, which is why I can see him becoming a four-time NEVER Openweight Champion!


Bishamon {c} vs. Guerrillas of Destiny {c} [Winner Takes All Match for the IWGP Heavyweight & NJPW STRONG Openweight Tag Team Championships]:

As singles wrestlers, Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI have had their own trials and tribulations. They’ve certainly had success, but they just seem to be a level below the main event scene in NJPW. But as Bishamon, they have become one of the most dominant duos in all of tag team wrestling. However, their match at Wrestle Kingdom 18 will see them matched up against a duo with a similar backstory to theirs.

Hikuleo and El Phantasmo have all of the potential in the world as singles wrestlers, but have managed to find a winning formula as a tag team. Bishamon might have won the World Tag League in December by defeating G.o.D, but the NJPW STRONG Openweight Tag Team Champions didn’t go down without a fight, lasting 40 minutes with the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions. As far as who will walk out of the Tokyo Dome with two belts instead of one, it’s time for New Japan to strap up Hikuleo and ELP and make this match a chapter in what could be the early stages of a fantastic tag team rivalry.

PREDICTION: Guerrillas of Destiny

Hiromu Takahashi {c} vs. El Desperado [IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship]:

Hiromu Takahashi’s fifth reign as the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion has put him in an elite class when it comes the history of the junior division. He’s one of only five men to have won the belt five times, his current reign is the fifth longest in the history of the belt, and a win over El Desperado would take the Timebomb to 16 successful defenses overall, the third most of all time. So it’s safe to say that there’s a lot riding on this match for the champion.

It’s an entirely different situation for the challenger. El Desperado, while being one of the most popular dominant juniors of the last few years, has always felt like the bridesmaid and not the bride. Despy even defeated Hiromu at the Tokyo Dome two years ago to keep the Junior Heavyweight title, and yet all of the glory has gone to Takahashi. I am a big fan of El Desperado, but NJPW wants to make Hiromu the final boss of the division, and by giving him a historic win at Wrestle Kingdom 18, his legacy as one of the greatest juniors ever will be cemented.

PREDICTION: Hiromu Takahashi

Will Ospreay vs. Jon Moxley vs. David Finlay [Three Way Match for the IWGP Global Heavyweight Championship]:

History will be made at Wrestle Kingdom 18 as the first-ever IWGP Global Heavyweight Champion will be crowned. Will Ospreay was forced to retire from the IWGP United States Championship in November after David Finlay destroyed the belt, and a new one has been created so that NJPW has a secondary champion they can be proud of. This bout initially seemed like the most predictable, but now, not so much. Let me explain.

At the end of February, Will Ospreay will join All Elite Wrestling on a full-time basis, the home promotion of Jon Moxley, meaning that David Finlay will be the only man in the match who will be part of NJPW in a few months time. This would suggest a win for the Bullet Club leader, but something tells me that won’t happen. New Japan want a global presence, and thanks to their partnership with AEW, putting the belt of Ospreay or Moxley would work wonders for them overseas. With that in mind, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is, and pick Will Ospreay as the inaugural IWGP Global Heavyweight Champion.

PREDICTION: Will Ospreay

Kazuchika Okada vs. Bryan Danielson:

Speaking of AEW, Bryan Danielson will finally get the chance to wrestle in a high-profile singles match at the Tokyo Dome before he stops wrestling full-time at Wrestle Kingdom 18. The American Dragon hasn’t wrestled at the Tokyo Dome in 20 years, and having already beaten Kazuchika Okada in AEW last year, he will be walking into this bout with all of the confidence in the world…or will he?

The crux of this rivalry has morphed into a classic case of Danielson having Okada’s number, but at what cost? Bryan beat The Rainmaker at Forbidden Door in June, but broke his arm during the match. Okada also lost a tag team match in AEW which featured Danielson, but managed to inflict more damage to Bryan’s already broken orbital bone during the contest. Okada has inflicted a lot of punishment on Danielson, but has yet to have his hand raised at the end of it all. However, I think that will change at Wrestle Kingdom 18 as I can see Okada getting his win back in a bout that will most likely be the match of the night.

PREDICTION: Kazuchika Okada

SANADA {c} vs. Tetsuya Naito [IWGP World Heavyweight Championship]:

With 10 matches down, it’s time for the main event! The richest prize in New Japan Pro Wrestling will be on the line as SANADA defends against Tetsuya Naito. SANADA left Naito and the rest of Los Ingobrenables de Japon in March 2023 to join Just 5 Guys and has found nothing but success since then. Naito won his third G1 Climax in August to earn the right to challenge for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom, and with that, the main event was set.

Naito’s narrative throughout 2023 was simple: He wanted to end Wrestle Kingdom 18 as the champion, doing the LIJ roll call. He wanted to do that more than anything in the world, and he knew he’d have to perform at the highest level all year round to make it happen. The challenger has only lost two of his last 12 singles matches, and with SANADA seemingly coming into the match with a far more relaxed attitude than any champion in history, that might be the inexperience of the champion when it comes to this sort of a stage. It’s going to be, it’s going be dramatic, and it’s going to end with Tetsuya Naito as the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion.

PREDICTION: Tetsuya Naito

Are you excited for Wrestle Kingdom 18? Let us know in the comments section below!


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