NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 12 Preview and Predictions - Triple Threat POV | Smark Out Moment

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 12 Preview and Predictions - Triple Threat POV

Posted by Robert DeFelice Wednesday, January 3, 2018
Welcome to another edition of Triple Threat from Smark Out Moment, where three of us get together to discuss three questions based on one big topic going down in the week of professional wrestling.

This week, Robert DeFelice, Callum Wiggins, and Gabby Velasquez will be giving their thoughts and predictions on New Japan Pro Wrestling's biggest event of the year, Wrestle Kingdom 12!

With little more than 24 hours until New Japan’s biggest show of the year featuring Kazuchika Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito, Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega, Kota Ibushi vs. Cody, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Jay White, and more! We’re all excited! Let’s discuss…

Question 1: Who do you see winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match between Tetsuya Naito and Kazuchika Okada?

VELASQUEZ: Here’s the thing: the story between Tetsuya Naito and Kazuchika Okada has been building for YEARS now. A lot of people might not remember Naito before he became the devil-may-care, swaggering anti-hero we see today, but oh man. He was New Japan’s Roman Reigns. He had so much potential, but his gimmick was “Stardust Genius.” Yeah. When he first emerged to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship after winning the G1 Climax in 2013, crowds just didn’t buy into him. To make things worse, he was voted by fans out of Wrestle Kingdom 8’s main event, being replaced by Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi. His opponent? Kazuchika Okada. Fans couldn’t rally behind Naito then. He had little charisma, especially compared to the iconic Tanahashi, whom fans desired to see in the main event instead of Naito.

At Wrestle Kingdom 8, Naito lost and soon after departed for Mexico, where he met current NXT Champion and the head of the rebellious faction Los Ingobernables: La Sombra, Andrade Almas. They tagged together in World Tag League, and for the next two years, he struggled to gain any footing in Japan. Finally, in mid-2015, Naito returned to Mexico and Los Ingobernables, and everything changed. Gone was Stardust Genius Naito. This Naito was goofy, loose and wildly disrespectful. When he returned to Japan, everything just clicked. Naito was unpredictable and uncaring, and fans loved to hate him. He formed LIJ, and before we knew it, he was a superstar. He feuded with Tanahashi and put on a spectacular match at Wrestle Kingdom 11, and by the time he won the G1 Climax in 2017, he was a bonafide fan favorite.

Okada has already made history. The time is right, the person is right. Naito is going to be the next IWGP Heavyweight Champion.

WIGGINS: History is on the side of Kazuchika Okada. The IWGP Heavyweight Championship has not changed hands at a Wrestle Kingdom event since 2011, when Satoshi Kojima fell to Hiroshi Tanahashi. Okada himself has never lost the championship at Wrestle Kingdom, including a successful defense against Tetsuya Naito in 2014. But this is a very different Naito than the man Okada faced before. He is no longer the ill-fated Stardust Genius, but a man of limitless charisma.

Tetsuya Naito is arguably the most popular wrestler in NJPW right now, despite being more akin to an anti-hero as the leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon. In this match, Naito will play the 'heel' role, take shortcuts, and frustrate the resilient champion Okada. Yet, he will likely get the strongest crowd reactions in this potential Match of the Year contender.

Kazuchika Okada's 560+ day title reign has conditioned fans to never rule him out, no matter the strain his body has been put through to hold onto his coveted championship. For well over a year he has survived through sheer willpower and determination, but I personally don't think that will be enough against the self-proclaimed Shuyaku of NJPW. Naito for the win.

DEFELICE: If it ain’t broke…

Tetsuya Naito Comes into this championship match consumed by bitterness. Meanwhile, the incumbent champion, Kazuchika Okada, comes in ready to plant his flag firmly as the top of the top in NJPW. This is a defining match for both men as the company is poised to take another giant leap towards global dominance and I’m sure both men want to be at the forefront of this movement, especially amid a growing belief that it’s all about Kenny Omega.

Naito is fun to watch, no doubt about it. I loved his mistreatment of the IWGP Intercontinental Championship would you have so we provided the perfect backdrop for this match. He’s ready, and so is a portion of the audience. For 500+ days, Okada has reigned supreme. Not unlike the American audience with somebody at the level of a John Cena, there are definitely those in the crowd who are more than ready for a change. Naito is the perfect candidate to initiate change. His gritty, do what I want until I get what I want attitude, combined with the arrogant yet laid-back way that he carries himself in the ring, makes him the perfect character to dethrone the man who has seemingly been anointed by the top brass behind NJPW.

I, on the other hand, feel the IWGP Heavyweight Championship should stay right where it is. Okada is a household name among NJPW faithful and I think he brings more to the belt than his opponent would right now. Also, I think he should lose it to Kenny Omega, the man who had his coming out party last year against Okada, and can bring more to the belt on a global scale than either man here.

My pick: Okada makes it rain and retains.

Question 2: Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega is one of the most anticipated matches between North American wrestlers not to take place in WWE in quite a long time. Who do you see winning? Is this your main attraction for Wrestle Kingdom 12?

DeFELICE: For me, it’s all about this match. I got this snazzy shirt, I am gonna be up all night, I. AM. FUCKING. READY.

I’ll admit, I don’t keep up with New Japan as much as I’d like, but I’m biting the bullet (club) here, and subscribing to NJPW World for this. Matches like this don’t come around often, and I want to watch this unfold live. This is the money match for a lot of people stateside, and elsewhere, and I don’t think it will disappoint. However, I do worry that Jericho won’t be able to match the pace of the show and that will draw the ire of people who are already upset that a major North American star took away the dream match they thought Kenny would have with Kota Ibushi. In my opinion, people who are upset about this match don’t understand the importance of the expansion of the brand, it’s not all about in-ring performance, and if it is in your mind, then you must believe we’re in WWE’s golden era currently. The six-star system won’t be needed here, but you’re gonna walk away remembering this one.

I truly think the only way to go here is with a Chris Jericho victory. Before last year, we never thought we would see him outside of WWE again. Now, I think you give him the victory and it will be all anyone is talking about the next day. That’s what matters. Kenny is definitely going to have his time in the sun, but right now growing the brand is most important.

VELASQUEZ: I’m a longtime New Japan fan, so my main attraction is still Okada/Naito, but I won’t pretend I’m not ridiculously hyped to see Kenny Omega methodically destroy Chris Jericho. That said, this match is, in my mind, the third-most-important match at Wrestle Kingdom, behind Tanahashi and Okada’s title defenses.

New Japan tends to go lighter on tables in matches, but Omega is no stranger to Japanese table spots, which are brutal. I’ll also expect to see Jericho pulling out a lot of stops to make this memorable, considering this is the same guy who threw himself into dozens of tacks. All that said, this match is Omega’s. New Japan has tasked him with building the aura around this title and I don’t see him dropping it now.

WIGGINS: As a now devoted subscriber to NJPW World, there are several matches I am looking forward to at Wrestle Kingdom 12. But, I can't deny Kenny Omega vs Chris Jericho is the star attraction in my eyes. Jericho is one of the greatest of all time in my eyes, and it is for more than just his exceptional wrestling ability, superb storytelling and confidence on the microphone. It is his desire to reinvent himself and cement an unrivaled legacy in professional wrestling that sets him apart and is a trajectory that Kenny Omega is on right now as the leader of the Bullet Club.

Omega is at the peak of his powers right now between the ropes, and while Jericho is not as sprightly as he was twenty years ago, many would agree that his most recent run with WWE was the best in his entire career. I am extremely excited for this match, as with the limitless creativity of both combatants involved, Omega and Jericho have all the potential to steal the show. Plus, the No Disqualification stipulation adds an intriguing edge to how this match will be laid out.

With Chris Jericho not clear on any future commitments with NJPW beyond this match with Kenny Omega, I will predict that Omega walks out of Wrestle Kingdom 12 still the IWGP United States Heavyweight Champion.

Question 3: As a brand, where do you see New Japan Pro Wrestling going from here?

WIGGINS: Wrestle Kingdom 12 is a unique opportunity for NJPW to build their global audience like never before. Of course, one great event with a lot of eyeballs on it isn't going to make them direct competitors with WWE overnight. But, especially with the prospect of Omega/Jericho and a bevy of well-known international names performing, including Cody, Zack Sabre Jr and Michael Elgin, WK12 will hopefully be a turning point in growing their international appeal.

A strong show (with their typically astonishing production values) will be the perfect catalyst for a year where NJPW will be touring in the United States and hopefully other countries as well, and build up subscribers to their website.

Now is the time for NJPW to capitalize on its growing popularity and take a few risks. Playing safe, sound booking and a remarkable talent roster has gotten them this far. But, if they ever hope of becoming a true competitor for WWE, capable of enticing their biggest talents to the Far East, 2018 is the year to get the ball rolling.

VELASQUEZ: We already know that New Japan is returning to the United States in March, so their future will certainly include growing their fanbase. But what I’ve always loved about New Japan is that they remember their core fanbase is and always will be Japanese wrestling fans. These fans know these characters. They make or break stars. And when New Japan stays the course and tells the stories they’ve been building for months and even years, it shines the brightest.

DeFELICE: I’ll keep it short and sweet. The sky’s the limit for NJPW. They have a great buzz surrounding them right now and with the players they have, they can keep hitting home runs for as long as they please. Continued expansion into the United States is a given, but truly, they’re the only ones who can block their own success. It’ll be a pleasure watching them grow in 2018 and beyond.

Those are our thoughts on the issue, but where do you stand?
Let us know your answers to these questions in the comments below!

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Robert DeFelice is a journalist and marketing student. You can follow him on Twitter, Instagram as well as his apparel website Time Killer Apparel and his pro wrestling blog PandemoniuMania.


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