If you thought the hype was REAL for last year’s Wrestle Kingdom 11 spectacular, New Japan Pro Wrestling made even broader strokes this year with Chris Jericho’s surprise return to the Lionmark logo in a heated street fight confrontation against, arguably, the best wrestler in the world, Kenny Omega. Japanese heel fan favorite Tetsuya Naito also domestically headlined that headline in a long-awaited Tokyo Dome match-up with star-making machine, Kazuchika Okada.
Without spoiling any sentiments, scroll down for yours truly’s thoughts — and bible ratings — on Wrestle Kingdom 12!
*NEW JAPAN RUMBLE*
MOODY: Look. I’m not going to count this towards the actual WK12 card. Last year we graded the Rumble 1.5 Bibles and that was 10x better than this. Unlike the WWE’s version that takes place in just over 3 weeks, this Rumble is a joke. It’s a warm-up for the massive Dome attendance taking their sweet ass time to find a seat. It’s less of a spotlight on Young Lions and old-timey vets than we think; gone, also, were a few of the star veteran surprises of 2017 like Scott Norton and Billy Gunn. More importantly, this Rumble is also detached from the rest of the show and, unlike matches we see on a WWE PPV pre-show, this had zero bearing on anything relevant in the New Japan brand. N/A/5
**IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM TITLES**
*ROPPONGI 3K vs. THE YOUNG BUCKS*
MOODY: This was an improvement from last year. I loved the story that all four super juniors told with the multiple back injuries, and as far as whom was the tougher/stronger of Sho or Nick Jackson. Maybe the Young Bucks are channeling their “inner Revival”, but they seemed a lot more savage here than usual. Every new spot here also seemed to serve a purpose with the ailing back, be it the mockery of the twin sharpshooter from this new, Rocky Romero — who also had a memorable, unfortunate-for-him ramp bump — “directed” Roppongi, or the usual Senton spot from the Bucks that split these “young boys” in half. Again, this 7th title win for the tag team Elite also set the precedent of undercard matches switching straps. 4/5 Bibles.
**NEVER SIX-MAN TITLE GAUNTLET MATCH**
*BULLET CLUB (Bad Luck Fale/Tama Tonga/Tanga Loa) v. TAGUCHI-GUN (Makabe/Juice/Taguchi) v. CHAOS (Ishii/Yano/Trent) v. WAR MACHINE (Elgin/Rowe/Hanson) v. SUZUKI-GUN (Zack Sabre Jr./Iizuka/Taichi)*
MOODY: If you don’t mind Yano and his “beautiful schoolboy roll-up” (to quote color commentator Don Callis), this was another undercard title match that was a lot better than last year. Maybe it’s because I can’t remember a NEVER Openweight Hot Potato Six-Man match being this much fun or a spot as memorable as Ishii suplexing Fale. 3.75/5 Bibles.
*CODY vs. KOTA IBUSHI*
MOODY: Two things: 1.) Cody bounces back from a middling Wrestle Kingdom debut with Juice Robinson one year ago and has, arguably, the best match of his career; 2.) Because the “American Nightmare” lost the ROH strap a couple weeks ago at Final Battle, there was no “ROH match” at this year’s WK, and New Japan was all the better for it (especially had it been gaijin v. gaijin). A fuckin’ Cross Rhodes off the apron! Should I say more? I will. I expect major things in 2018 from Kota Ibushi, and I’d like to see him help Jay White bounce back from his lackluster night with a should-be great confrontation. 4.25/5 Bibles.
**IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TAG TEAM TITLES**
*KILLER ELITE SQUAD (Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr.) v. LOS INGOBERNABLES de JAPON (Evil & Sanada)*
MOODY: This was a pure heelish beatdown in every sense of the word. Then, how the fuck did Suzuki-Gun’s KES lose? I was only OK with the title change when I thought Evil & Sanada — the winners of Tag League 2017 — going over meant a night of domination from L-I-J at WK12. None of that proved fact except that Sanada should have never kicked out of that second Killer Bomb! 3.5/5 Bibles.
**IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT FATAL 4-WAY**
*MARTY SCURLL vs. WILL OSPREAY vs. KUSHIDA vs. HIROMU TAKAHASHI*
MOODY: While it doesn’t top last year’s “holy fuckballs” Super Junior title confrontation between Kushida and Takahashi, this one had great entrances (see: Villain), twice as many spots (see: Ospreay), and just as much ring chemistry (“ALL THESE GUYS!”). Minus a botch or two this was easily the most athletically impressive match on the card– and that’s saying a lot considering how awesome Ibushi & Cody was earlier in the night. Hell, I called Ospreay the new Jeff Hardy. At the very least, these four Super Juniors are light years beyond any 205 Live the WWE has to offer and that’s both a smark blessing and a casual fan shame. 4.25/5 Bibles.
**NEVER OPENWEIGHT TITLE**
*MINORU SUZUKI vs. HIROOKI GOTO*
MOODY: While one can’t help but think that it’s likely Goto was taking Shibata’s place in this high NEVER Openweight spot on the card, this Mortal Kombat-level Strong Style AF performance from the Samurai (just for taking all of the stiff slaps and jabs from Suzuki) made great back-to-back performances at a Wrestle Kingdom. With this superb psychological tale, it’s a wonder why we never give a shit about Goto the other 11 months of the year; hopefully this run and hand-chunk of Minoru’s dreadlocks can change that. 4.25/5 Bibles.
**IWGP INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP**
*HIROSHI TANAHASHI vs. JAY WHITE*
MOODY: Boy, was this a severe departure from the classic (yet somehow forgotten) IWGP Intercontinental match from WK11. Slingblade is no Destin0, and that wasn’t even half the problem. Jay White wasn’t over in my eyes until I saw his fantastic bout with Will Ospreay at ROH’s War of the Worlds exactly a month ago. And while his new Konami villain appearance and impressive promo at Tuesday night’s WK12 Fan Festa was enough to get me excited for this match, the lack of chemistry, crowd heat and an overall concern more for Tana‘s well-being than match performance really made this a miss. Definitely the biggest disappointment of the night. 3.25/5 Bibles.
**IWGP UNITED STATES TITLE – NO DQ**
*KENNY OMEGA vs. CHRIS JERICHO*
MOODY: The night I turned heel. Hah, who am I kidding? I’m a Kenny mark 4 life. The Cleaner came correct against the G.O.A.T., and this “Dream Match” of #AlphavOmega between my current fav and my favorite wrestler of all time was everything and more. Seriously. I know some folks might be iffy about the sight of Chris Jericho‘s (fl)abs or the sounds of his stamina, but Y2J can still hit all his signature spots, bring back bold memories and surprise the fuck out of you at every turn. And what about Kenny Omega besting Bate for the greatest Tyler (Pedigree) Driver 97 ever? This NO DQ street fight style battle lived up to the billing, an “ECW” bloodbath with many plot twists and turns that had me on my feet the entire 35-minute stretch. My only minor grievances with the match had nothing to do with the performers at all (Jericho, at 47, IMNSHO was perfect here), but with some funky rules like still active count-outs and rope breaks. Again, silly but nothing match-destroying. In fact, the two legends used this rulebook asininity to an advantage, got super-creative and forced our little smark brains to think Jericho actually had a chance to go over (that One-Winged Angel into The Walls tho!!!). Bottom line: this was a 5-star match — or, at least almost one — because they weren’t trying to get 5-stars. 4.75/5 Bibles
**IWGP HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE**
*KAZUCHIKA OKADA vs. TETSUYA NAITO*
MOODY: In some way, you’ve got to feel for both of these seven-star athletes, having to play second-fiddle headliners to Alpha & Omega in every country not named Japan; you’ve also got to feel for Naito and Okada for the unprecedented amazing “6 star” matches that were witnessed in 2017. Totally fucking unfair. Had we skipped right to Wrestle Kingdom 12 from 2016, we might be talking about this long-awaited IWGP title bout as the greatest wrestling match in modern day history. Instead, we’re talking about an anxiety-riddled final 5-minutes between both fan favorites; and a near-insane miracle that THE DOME WAS SO HOT FOR THIS MATCH despite 5-hours of wrestling before it. While I could have done without some of the overly telegraphed Destino/Rainmaker finisher spots–and I still have my doubts about who they decided to put over–this was yet another fantastic Wrestle Kingdom main event worth watching many times over again. Fuck you for being so unfair, Pro Wrestling 2017. 4.5/5 Bibles