Wrestle Kingdom 18 Preview

On January 4th, the wrestling world is rewarded each year with an excellent show that sets the tone for the year ahead. This has been true for nearly twenty years now and New Japan’s Mania level event looks like yet another great show this time around.

Matches

  • Sanada(c) vs Tetsuya Naito, IWGP World Heavyweight Championship
  • Bryan Danielson vs Kazuchika Okada, AEW versus New Japan
  • Will Ospreay vs Jon Moxley vs David Finlay, IWGP Global Heavyweight Decision Match
  • Zack Sabre Jr.(c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi, NJPW World TV Championship
  • Bishamon(iwgp) vs GoD(strong), Winner Takes All IWGP + STRONG Tag Titles
  • Bullet Club War Dogs(c) vs Catch22, IWGP Jr HW Tag Championships
  • Hiromu Takahashi(c) vs El Desperado, IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
  • SHINGO(c) vs Tama Tonga, NEVER Openweight Championship

Okada might be leaving, which is the biggest rumor going around right now. The fact that TNA looks like a legit possibility is insane considering the history there, but modern TNA is no joke and 2024 looks to be the year that they make that clear. His dick choice to try to push for the main event spot was funny, but petty af. To be fair, Okada’s match with The American Dragon is likely going to MOTN, regardless of card placement. Still, this might be the biggest story of New Japan’s in early 2024.

The actual likely main event sees G1 winner, Naito, facing former LIJ bud, Sanada, for the top prize of the company. The champ defeated another former partner, EVIL, in a lumberjack match in October to add nicely to the storyline. Expect something in the 4 star range.

The US Heavyweight belt became the UK Heavyweight belt, then Finlay acted like a douche because he wanted to prove he’s a legit BizCliz leader and destroyed the belt. Now David will face Mox and Ospreay in a three way match where the winner becomes the first Global Heavyweight Champ. This is the biggest test of David’s career and just another fun outing for his opponents. Who New Japan wants to crown as the first holder of the prize will be interesting, but the match itself has some real promise especially if David can indeed show up!

Sabre’s run with the Television Championship was one of the most underrated reigns of 2023 and he is looking to start 2024 with a big win over Tanahashi. Promotions tend to change things up at the start of the new year, so I am actually hoping for a title change here and Sabre moving on to taking the World strap by the end of the year. This should be great at the very worst. That Tana was just made president is hopefully a long-term positive, too. Will there be crossover between the two? Yeah, likely.

Hiromu and Despy’s Junior title contest should be a decent addition to Kingdom junior bouts. I’m expecting a retention but flip a coin. It’ll be solid, regardless.

The two tag title matches, both in the heavyweight and junior divisions, should be fairly decent in all but I honestly don’t think folks will remember them much a year later.

Sadly, the SHINGO match might be the weak link or it might be a sleeper hit. Only time will tell. A title change here, just like with the two tags, the junior defense, and the TV defense are very possible.

This might end up being one of the weakest Kingdom shows in years, but there’s a guaranteed MOTYC, another that has that potential, and a handful of promising contests filling out the rest. Don’t expect the show to win over any new fans, but it should do enough to please longtimers nicely enough.

Section Written 12/20/23 for The Pro-Wrestling Digest #150. Issue due Jan. 2023.