4th January Wrestle Kingdom
IWGP Tag Team Championship
Ropongi 3K (c) vs the Young Bucks
The Bucks are chasing their 7th IWGP Junior Tag Titles here with Ropongi 3K now taking the place of their usual rivals. This match is a spinal practitioner’s nightmare with both teams essentially each losing a member early on to back issues. The rest of the match essentially builds upon this story with both teams doing an awesome job of selling. No amount of back pain is gonna stop them doing some crazy spots mind. Awesome opener to this year’s Tokyo Dome show
Cody Vs Kota Ibushi
Cody’s “sports entertainment” style and tactics give him huge heat in NJPW but to this point he hadn’t had any standout matches. Ibushi on the other hand is the prototypical NJPW star and fan favourite, so this match provides the purest heel vs face match on the card. Cody does a lot of his dastardly heel stuff but brings the goods when needed, including an apron cross-rhodes that is just completely devastating. The crowd are super-hot for the beloved Ibushi as he desperately tries to fight back, and this feels every bit like a big main-event match as a result. There’s a great underlining Kenny Omega subplot too. It’s a big shame this doesn’t go on very long but considering some people thought it would be a dud, this overachieves in many ways.
Never Openweight Championship, Hair vs Hair Match
Minoru Suzuki (c) vs Hiroki Goto
Goto had a very quiet 2017 where he went from lower end main eventer who couldn’t quite get the big one to a complete afterthought. Here he’s down to only having his hair left to offer. Suzuki straight up dominates Goto here. He beats him up, chokes him out and just breaks Goto down piece by piece. He also pulls out a dropkick Okada would be proud off and a vicious headbutt in reference to Goto’s pal Shibata. He’s just completely vicious, which is what you want from Suzuki. As for Goto, who knows what they want from him in 2018, what you get though is a lot of what we’ve seen before which is the only real downside here. Great stuff and obviously the post-match is interesting too
IWGP JR Heavyweight Championship Match
Marty Scrull (c) vs Will Ospreay vs Hiromu Takashi vs Kushida
Oh yeah, it’s time for some flips. Marty Scull officially wins the Tokyo Dome’s best entrance gear competition. He also does a great job as the clever heel avoiding trouble and picking his moments to strike. He’s literally got a bag (ok well a box) of tricks waiting to unleash on the opposition too. Of course everyone produces some crazy cool spots but they never fall into the junior match pitfall of looking choreographed. Nobody ever seems like their waiting for a spot or wandering into the right position. There’s a few moments late in the match where things clearly don’t go quite to plan but nothing unrecoverable. For those who love their high flying action and big spots this was essentially match of the night, though it doesn’t quite match up to some of the previous singles match combinations between these four. Still a must watch mind.
IWGP United States Championship, No DQ Match
Kenny Omega (c) vs Chris Jericho
Two all-time greats set out to destroy each other in a hate-fuelled brawl, complete with mad spots that’s seem to almost happen on the fly. Some expected this to be very WWE-like in style, but it is neither that NJPW or WWE like but instead it stands out as a very unique and brutal offering, that is undoubtedly must see.
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship Match
Kazuchka Okada (c) vs Tetsuya Naito
People practically demanded that this be the greatest match of all time, and against those lofty expectations, some felt let down. Take those expectations away though and give this another viewing because it’s perfect storytelling and a great match. Naito has waited years for this moment, but he struggles to keep his cool and stay ‘tranquilo.’ Okada meanwhile is the dominant champion, with an ultimate end of game boss feel to him. Its the two biggest guys in the company, climaxing (perhaps?) a multi year feud in a Tokyo Dome main event, what more could you possibly want?
27th January New Beginnings
NJPW produce their second real MOTY candidate and it’s only January! Tanahashi has defeated Suzuki before but he’s enters with many months worth of injuries. Suzuki’s psychopathic tendencies hit an all time high, as he sets out to destroy Tanahashi’s leg. Like at Wrestle Kingdom against Goto, Suzuki wants to brake Tanahashi, but whilst at Wrestlekingdom many people actually enjoyed watching Suzuki put a beatdown on Goto, here you feel great sympathy for the ageing ace, who sells brilliantly. It’s painful and even a little sad to watch at times, but ultimately provides a gripping story. A must see.
10th February The New Beginning
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title Match
Will Ospreay vs Hiromu Takahashi
Will Ospreay is a man who divides a lot of opinion and yes if you go into this match looking for things that are wrong with it you will find them. If this style of wrestling is up your alley however, then this is just a lot of fun plain and simple.
IWGP World Heavyweight Title Match
Okada (c) vs SANADA
You know an Okada title defence is going to be good at it’s very worse, but the crowd just isn’t into it at first, perhaps feeling SANADA is unlikely to defeat him. Okada works the crowd over great though, going into full blown cocky Okada mode, so when SANADA makes his explosive comeback the crowd comes to life and are right there behind him. The closing stretch is brilliant, full of lots of little call backs to Okada’s Naito matches and there’s a perfect bit of selling near the end as someone fails to make the pin.
24th February Honour Rising
The Golden Lovers (Kota Ibushi & Kenny Omega) vs Cody & Marty Scrull
From a purely in-ring perspective this is one of the weaker matches on this list. Omega and Ibushi still need some time to gel again and there’s a few mistakes from both sides. The hottest storyline (or storylines) in all of wrestling, four great characters and one of the hottest Korueken Hall crowds you’ve ever seen make this must watch though. The Golden Lovers are what everyone came to see but it is Cody who truly steals the show. Too many heels come off as too likeable or “edgy” whilst others overdo it and lose all legitimacy with cartoon-like antics. Cody is simply despicable and unlikable in every way, you can take a step back and respect his work but when the bell rings you want him to lose in the worst way.
6th March NJPW Anniversary Event
IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match
Minoru Suzuki vs Togi Makabe
Makabe hasn’t really been featured in a big singles match outside of the G1 in some time, which is a shame because he reminds us all here that against the right opponent (and Suzuki is the right opponent) he can deliver the goods. Whilst the likes of Tanahashi and Goto have relied on their heroics to tackle Suzuki, Makabe is just a big fearless dude that belongs to the small list of men that will happily trade strikes with the worlds scariest psychopath, Suzuki. Yes these two men are getting on but your hardly going to watch this hoping someone does a 450 splash, nope this is all about grumpy men punching each other and it’s a lot of fun.
Okada vs Ospreay (Champion vs. Champion)
We get a peek into the potential of a future main event heavyweight Ospreay here and he makes the most of his opportunity to shine against one of the biggest names in the world. The story they tell is perfect for the pairing, Ospreay isn’t on Okada’s level yet but if he can put it all together for one night he might just pull off the upset. Okada meanwhile is the dominant champion who is intrigued by the kind of new challenge Ospreay poses and wants to tap into and bring out the very best in Ospreay. A well worked match that makes everyone involved look better then ever.
11th March New Japan Cup Night Three
Kota Ibushi vs Yoshi-Hashi
Kota Ibushi gives Yoshi-Hashi the breakout performance he’s been trying to have for years now. This isn’t a carry job though (although Kota is the more impressive), as Yoshi Hashi brings the fight to Ibushi, and it looks like he might just score the biggest upset since he pinned Ibushi’s Golden Lover teammate in the G1 years ago. Oh, and we get Ibushi moonsaulting off a balcony, which never gets old.
15th March New Japan Cup Night Six
Kota Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
The story of a Zack Sabre Junior match is often the same, he clings himself to his opponents and invents cruel new ways to torture them whilst they try to create distance. Some may say this gets boring but since he’s a one of a kind wrestler in the modern era, it’s not so bad to rinse and repeat the story because unless you only watch Zack Sabre Junior matches, it remains unique. Ibushi is the perfect victim for Sabre since there might not be anyone in world quite as likeable as him and as such, able to procure as much sympathy from the crowd. If your going to go back and watch one New Japan cup match, go watch the final. If your going to watch two then watch this one as well.
21st March New Japan Cup Final
Zack Sabre Junior vs Hiroshi Tanahashi
Like Suzuki did at New Beginnings, Sabre is suffocating in his style of offence and perhaps even more brutal, working over Tanahashi’s old injuries as the crowd does everything they can to try and will Tanahashi through. When Tanahashi makes space, his chances of success go way up and Sabre occasionally makes the mistake of moving away from his game plan, giving Tanahashi the opening he needs.
25th March Strong Style Evolved
The Golden Lovers vs. The Young Bucks
From a purely wrestling standpoint this match is maybe a bit too full, with enough big spots and moves to fill out an entire show. The drama, hype and storytelling however, will keep you hyped from bell to bell as the Young Bucks and the Golden Lovers offer up their unique vision of what pro wrestling could be. If you could envision a Shakespeare play, done entirely through the form of wrestling, it would likely look something like this (now get that image of Omega and Ibushi enacting Romeo and Juliet out of your head) as a story of love, hate and betrayal plays out in front of the adoring fans. Thankfully wrestling is a lot more fun then Shakespeare, so go give this a watch if you haven’t as these four men produce one of the most memorable tag matches of the decade.
April 1st Sakura Genesis
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title Match
Will Ospreay (c) vs. Marty Scrull
Ospreay looks to continue to elevate the Junior title here, against maybe his best opponent, Marty Scrull. The more grounded and technically minded of the two, Scrull is the perfect kayfabe foil to Ospreay and in in reality the perfect dance partner. These two together are always brilliant, so just go and watch it, yeah?
IWGP World Heavyweight Title Match
Kasuchika Okada vs Zack Zabre Junior
New Japan did a spectacular job of building Zack Sabre Junior up as a worthy contender to Okada’s throne, and this is tense stuff from bell to bell. Still Okada is the untouchable champion looking to test himself in new ways here, and he seems more then happy to fight Sabre at his own game early on. Eventually Okada has enough of fighting Sabre’s fight and turns it into more of an Okada match. Sabre can put on a hold from anywhere though, and can seemingly reverse anything. Some people spend too long looking at the stats when it comes to Okada’s reign, but in reality, it’s the different types of opponents he has faced that makes it feel so special.
24th April Road To Wrestling Dontaku
Toa Henare vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Henare has just been a young lion in a funny costume to this point, but after this match he’ll forever be known as a no-nonsense, hard hitter who can give anyone a run for there money on a good day. There’s only one motion in this match and that’s full speed straight ahead. Now if Henare could just up his wardrobe game, then that would be just great.
27th April Road To Wrestling Dontaku
NEVER Openweight Title
Goto (c) vs Juice Robinson
NJPW used the long road to Dontaku as an oppertunity to showcase their strong midcard, and no one shone brighter then these two. This isn’t just great for a midcard title match though, nor is it just the best of some road to shows, but a legit match of the year contender. Juice may be a midcard guy for life in NJPW, but he shows us once again here that he’s truly an elite level performer. Goto reminds us how good he can be too, as he drops the boring face in peril Schick and turns this match into an all out fight.
4th May Wrestling Dontaku
IWGP World Heavyweight Title Match
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada (c)
There were a lot of mixed feelings when this match was made, after all, their brilliant feud already came to a conclusion back at Wrestle Kingdom 10, and surely any further matches would just tarnish that legacy? A battle over who should be ace this is not though, instead Okada is shown to have far surpassed Tanahashi, who plays the broken down underdog looking for that one last shot at glory. The crowd is fully behind the old ‘ace’ Tanahashi though, and just maybe he shock the world and find a way to win… It all makes for some incredible storytelling that conjures up a whirlwind of emotions, but ultimately serves an the perfect epilogue, as opposed to another chapter in their story.
9th June Dominion In Osaka-Jo Hall
IWGP Tag Team Title Match
Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & SANADA) (c) vs. Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson)
If you still weren’t sure about the Young Bucks being in the heavyweight division, then this is all the proof you need that they belong. Despite the weight disadvantage, the Bucks come off as legitimate contenders, and their flashy style is a breath of fresh airino a division of bulky hard-hitters.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title Match
Will Ospreay (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi
Takahashi is coming off the match of his career at the Best of the super Junior finals, and the crowd is right behind him. We get a very different Ospreay here, one who doesn’t mind slowing down the pace and it works in the match’s favour.
IWGP Heavyweight Title No Time Limit Best Two Out Of Three Falls MatchKazuchika Okada (w/Gedo) (c) vs. Kenny Omega (w/Kota Ibushi)
If you showed this to a wrestling fan who has never seen New Japan before, they’d probably call it match of the year, but would probably prefer one of the first two matches. For those who have been following the series however, this match is the absolute peak of professional wrestling. The call-backs, the storytelling, the psychology and the way they use the first two falls to build the drama are but a handful of reasons why this match is one of the greatest of all time.
This list is updated regularly, so don’t forget to check back soon for more recommended matches!
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