Last week fans were treated to two of New Japan’s major events Wrestle Kingdom and New Year Dash. Wrestle Kingdom emanates from the famed Tokyo Dome every year on January 4th. The event is NJPW’s equivalent to WrestleMania, often seeing the culmination of the major feuds. The following day they present their New Year Dash show which is where the new feuds are born.
This way of booking is what has given NJPW much of the praise it receives. Not only is the in-ring action entertaining and feels like a true sporting event, but they treat fans very well. Unlike in other companies at times where fans are almost punished for having memories of past stories, NJPW rewards the fans. At Wrestle Kingdom 12 this past Thursday the main event squared Tetsuya Naito and Kazuchika Okada against one another.
This isn’t the first time that Naito and Okada have battled at the annual event. Four years ago NJPW was in the same spot, Okada was champion and Naito the #1 contender. However, fans were not behind either wrestler at the time as both were still newer to their roles. Their match was removed from the main event and was replaced by established stars Tanahashi and Nakamura. Wrestle Kingdom 12 didn’t suffer that same fate.
New Champions and New Feuds at New Year Dash
Through four years of great booking and storytelling, fans were rewarded with the rematch garnering the main event slot. This is what NJPW does better than almost any other promotion. They will often callback to years and feuds past to reinvigorate current stories. The use of Wrestle Kingdom to end the current feuds then New Year Dash to reset the chessboard is genius. This is what the WWE has begun to do the last decade with the RAW after WrestleMania.
At Wrestle Kingdom 10, AJ Styles was unable to wrestle the IWGP Intercontinental Championship away from Shinsuke Nakamura. The next day at New Year Dash, he would be kicked out of the Bullet Club. This year saw a similar exciting follow-up to Wrestle Kingdom. The Bullet Club regain their 6-Man Never Tag Titles, Jay White spurned the Bullet Club for Chaos, and battle lines were drawn for the leadership of the Bullet Club. Now it may seem that only the Bullet Club saw any action at NYD, but once again, Y2J would make an appearance.
After the main event that had Chaos and Los Ingobernables de Japon, go toe to toe, Chris Jericho would attack Tetsuya Naito from behind. After a wild brawl, Naito would take a chair and sit calmly, essentially challenging Jericho. In what was thought to be a one-off appearance, it seems clear that Jericho will be spending some more time in NJPW.
North America is the target for NJPW in 2018
Y2J will be a major asset to NJPW with their desires to expand into North America. Kenny Omega is currently the face of that expansion, but an established star like Jericho could do wonders for the efforts. It’s still unseen whether Jericho would wrestle for NJPW on U.S. soil, as he is very loyal to Vince McMahon. But with Cody, The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and the entirety of the Bullet Club, adding Jericho to the Long Beach, California event would be massive.
After making a splash in their first solo efforts in the United States last summer, NJPW is building a war chest for their return this upcoming March. With the addition of merchandise representing not only NJPW but many of their stars to Hot Topic, the company is growing at a rapid pace. The WWE will forever be the #1 in the United States, and honestly, the World unless something drastic happens. But with the moves they’ve made in the last year, New Japan could begin to put the pressure on and steal the #2 slot comfortably.