NJPW's Wrestle Kingdom 14: Why Fans Must Tune In For Japan's Answer To WrestleMania
This weekend, wrestling fans across the globe will turn their attention to the Tokyo Dome in Japan as New Japan Pro-Wrestling presents Wrestle Kingdom 14. The Orient's answer to WWE's WrestleMania has become a huge part of the wrestling year, with more and more westerners travelling to Tokyo to see the culmination of NJPW's year-long storylines. Whether a WWE devotee, a lapsed fan or someone curious to see a grand-old artform through new eyes Wrestle Kingdom has something to offer.
For the first time in the history of the event, 2020's proceedings will take place over two days on January 4th and 5th. To WWE aficionados, the highlight will surely be Chris Jericho's appearance on the second night against Hiroshi Tanahashi. The former 'Y2J' turned AEW's 'Le Champion' catapulted himself back into international consciousness this year when a video of him enjoying "a little bit of the bubbly" gained viral notoriety. Jericho made his final WWE appearance in 2018 and quickly carved out a reputation in Japan for his wild brawling and vicious heel persona. His feud with Kenny Omega served to re-define Jericho for a new generation of fans, and the former 'Lionheart' would go on to battle current IWGP champion Kazuchika Okada, Tetsuya Naito and the demonic 'King Of Darkness' EVIL. Jericho's opponent is 'The Ace' Hiroshi Tanahashi. A long-time main eventer in New Japan, Tanahashi has been compared to John Cena for his longevity and laundry list of high-profile matches. With the added spice of Jericho promising Tanahashi a shot at the AEW Championship should he defeat him on Sunday, the stage is set for a special match.
Regular WWE viewers will recognise another iconic face on New Japan's two-day festival of pro wrestling. His name, however, may be unfamiliar to some viewers. Former WWE champ Dean Ambrose will be bringing his seething intensity to proceedings under his original moniker, Jon Moxley. The former 'Lunatic Fringe' will clash with New Japan's United States champ Lance Archer in a Texas Deathmatch. The rules dictate that the match can only end by knockout or submission, and anyone who saw Moxley's contest brutal warfare against Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt and Brock Lesnar in his WWE days will know exactly what to expect from this match.
The violence of the weekend will be tempered with a great deal of emotion, as one of wrestling's all-time greats will be competing for the last time ever. Jushin Thunder Liger is perhaps the greatest junior heavyweight wrestler of all time, and will be familiar to US and UK audiences for his classic '90s matches with Rey Mysterio and his NXT TakeOver scrap with Tyler Breeze in 2015. The masked icon helped usher in the era of high-flying, risk-taking pro wrestling that still reverberates around the scene to this day. Over the course of the weekend, he will team with -- and face -- some of his greatest rivals from his legendary career.
On night one, he teams with Tatsumi Fujinami, aerial icon The Great Sasuke and Tiger Mask against Naoki Sano, the eternal Shinjiro Otani, Tatsuhito Takaiwa and popular New Japan star Ryusuke Taguchi. On night two, the past meets the future as Liger teams with his old foe Sano to face the great junior heavyweights of today, Ryu Lee and Hiromu Takahashi. Liger has built one of the greatest legacies in modern wrestling and the chance to see the curtain fall on his Hall of Fame career is not one to be missed.
Liger's night two opponent may be entering his cross-generation clash as a champion, as he faces high-flying Brit Will Ospreay for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship on Saturday. Essex's Ospreay enjoyed an incredible 2019, winning the Best of the Super Juniors tournament before snatching the Junior Heavyweight strap from Ryu Lee. During this ascent, Ospreay has built a reputation for putting on the most incredible wrestling matches anywhere in the world. Hiromu Takahashi comes into his bout with the in-form champion having missed over a year of action with a broken neck. Beloved by the fans, his return matches in November were met with rapturous reactions from the NJPW faithful. Should he snatch Ospreay's crown, the reaction amongst the thousands inside the Tokyo Dome could be the loudest of the weekend.
Ospreay won't be the only British representation on this huge international stage. Current British heavyweight champ Zack Sabre Jr defends his title against Sanada on night two. Sabre is one of the finest technical wrestlers around today, basing his style around the World of Sport traditions of old. His textbook grappling is tempered by a vicious rule-breaking streak that contrasts with the high-impact style of the popular Sanada. The pair contested an excellent bout on the opening night of New Japan's spectacular G1 Climax tournament in July, and he will be hoping to top it under the bright Tokyo Dome lights.
As if that wasn't enough top-class wrestling to get your teeth into, the weekend centres around a pair of high-stakes main events dubbed the 'Double Gold Dash.' Night one will feature IWGP champion and industry leader Kazuchika Okada defending his belt against Kota Ibushi. The challenger earned his Tokyo Dome title opportunity by winning the grueling G1 Climax with a victory over 'Switchblade' Jay White. The conquered finalist will also be part of this unique two-day main event scenario, as he defends his IWGP Intercontinental title against Tetsuya Naito.
The winners of these matches will square off in the main event of night two with both championships on the line. There are many interlinking storylines in play here. Ibushi underscored his dramatic G1 win over White by hitting Okada over the head with the briefcase containing the contract for his title match. 'Switchblade' raised the champion's ire himself when turning his back on Okada's Chaos stable to join up with the Bullet Club unit. Naito will be feeling deja vu as he saw glory slip from his fingers when he lost to Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 12 with the IWGP title on the line. The stories of these four men are intertwined, and every wrestling fan should take the time to see how the story concludes.
Whether you're a paid-up New Japan devotee, a WWE fan curious about what else you can find or a former fan who has consigned pro wrestling to your past, NJPW's Wrestle Kingdom 14 will cater for you this weekend. Take a chance on the Japanese answer to WrestleMania. I promise you won't be disappointed.
Featured Image Credit: NJPW/AEW