Wrestle Kingdom 18 at Tokyo Dome Report – Tetsuya Naito crowned

SANADA & Tetsuya Naito headline the Tokyo Dome at Wrestle Kingdom 18 (co) NJPW

Wrestle Kingdom 18 emanated from the Tokyo Dome, kicking off New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s 2024. There was a solid turn-out for a Thursday evening after many already returned to work in the new year. The Year of the Dragon is off to a solid start with the company’s biggest show of their calendar year, which wraps up the previous one. 

  • Attendance: 27,422
  • Availability: NJPW World
  • English Commentary: Chris Charlton, Walker Stewart & Rocky Romero

NJPW Women’s Championship Updates

  • NJPW STRONG Women’s Championship

    • STARDOM Dream Queendom (12/29/23) Ryogoku Sumo Hall – Giulia (c) defeated Megan Bayne
    • What’s Next? Giulia (c) vs. Trish Adora – NJPW Battle in the Valley (1/13); San Jose Civic Center.
  • IWGP Women’s Championship
    • STARDOMGATE 2024 (1/4) Tokyo Dome City Hall – Mayu Iwatani (c) defeated Syuri (19:06) – via Diving Poisonrana/Pin; V3 
    • What’s Next? No new challenger announced yet.

Highly Recommended Matches

  • SANADA vs. Naito
  • Okada vs. Danielson
  • Hiromu vs. Desperado
  • Takagi vs. Tonga

Recommended

  • IWGP HW Tag Championships
  • IWGP Jr. HW Tag Championships
  • IWGP Global Heavyweight Championship
  • NJPW WORLD TV Championship
  • Uemura vs. Tsuji

Worth a Watch

  • Kiyomiya/Umino vs. EVIL/Narita …including the House of Torture Shenanigans
  • KOPW2024 Finalist Rumble

Pre-Show

  • KOPW 2024 Rumble
  • TV Announcer & Shinnichi Champion Tsumugi Mitani – mic appeal for the annual Barabara Daisenkyo Fan Vote for the program of the year. Last year, Shinichi Champion won and received a TV special as a result. 

KOPW 2024 Finalist Rumble (4/NTL)  (32:40) – Final Four to meet at New Year Dash

  • Special Guest Referee: Tiger Hattori
  • Participants: 1: Chase Owens, 2: Great O’Khan, 3: Gabe Kidd, 4: Alex Coughlin, 5: Jeff Cobb, 6: HENARE, 7: Tomohiro Ishii, 8: Mikey Nicholls, 9: Shane Haste, 10: Yujiro Takahashi, 11: Master Wato, 12: Yoshinobu Kanemaru, 13: YOH, 14: SHO, 15: Hayato Fujita, Jr. (Michinoku Pro), 16: Taiji Ishimori, 17: DOUKI, 18: Toru Yano, 19: Takashi Iizuka, 20: Taichi

Eliminations

  1. Coughlin & Kidd – OTTR by United Empire
  2. Cobb – OTTR by TMDK
  3. HENARE – OTTR (Off camera; during Wato’s entrance) by TMDK
  4. Haste – OTTR (by Ishii)
  5. Nicholls – OTTR (by Ishii)
  6. Ishii – OTTR
  7. Wato – OTTR (by Kanemaru & Fujita Jr.)
  8. Fujita, Jr. & DOUKI – Double OTTR (by Ishimori & SHO)
  9. SHO – (pinned by YOH) 
  10. Yujiro – (pinned by GOK)
  11. Kanemaru – (pinned by Taichi)
  12. Iizuka & Taichi – Double OTTR (by YOH, Ishimori, Owens, Yano & GOK)
  13. Owens – OTTR (by GOK)

I enjoyed the nostalgia of both Tiger Hattori and Takashi Iizuka, especially with Iizuka’s former ties to Suzuki-gun and links to Taichi (who served as custodian of The Iron Fingers for several years at this point). It’s the annual KOPW Provisional Champion Qualifier, so it isn’t meant to be serious. It was also a great way to get a lot of fan favorites on the show.

  • Verdict: Worth a Watch 
  • What’s Next? NEW YEAR DASH!! YOH, Taiji Ishimori, Toru Yano & Great O’Khan will meet tomorrow at NEW YEAR DASH to determine the 2024 Provisional Champion.

Main Card

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (1/60): TJP & Francesco Akira defeated Clark Connors & Drilla Moloney (c) (9:32) – via 2/2/Pin Combo with TJP pining Moloney; Catch 2/2 become 74th Champions

The NJPW Juniors seldom disappoint when it comes to the Dome, and this match between BC War Dogs and Catch 2/2 were no exception. TJP debuted a new alter ego as The Aswang from Philippine folklore, which didn’t feel out of place given Great O’Khan’s origins. Moloney and Connors have really flourished since joining BC (something I never thought I would find myself saying), but they really put the boots to Catch 2/2 in this wild opening match. There was a solid balance of in-ring and around-the-ring work. Opening the show with the Jr. Tag Championships was a fantastic way to hit The Dome running.

Curious to see how the Aswang impacts Catch 2/2 and the future of the United Empire. Not worried about the BC War Dogs. I’m sure they’ll find another project soon.

  • Verdict: Recommended 
  • What’s Next? No new challengers presented themselves after the match, so we’ll have to see what is next at or after NEW YEAR DASH!!

NJPW WORLD TV Championship (1/15): Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Zack Sabre, Jr. (c)  (8:53) – via Pinfall; Tanahashi becomes the second champion, stopping SZJ at V16!! 

Tanahashi put ZSJ’s one year reign (which kicked-off against Ren Narita last WK,  had sixteen successful defenses) to an end at V16. The fifteen minute time limit may be a new format that could work in Tanahashi’s favor in 2024 given his “other duties as assigned” as he has that little side gig as company president.

This is one of the longer and somewhat underrated rivalries for both competitors, and the 15-minute time limit adds the extra spice needed to keep it interesting. ZSJ versus Tanahashi is always one of my sentimental favorite match-ups. I love that I saw it for the first time at MSG and now they were able to book-end it with the Tokyo Dome. 

  • Verdict: Recommended 
  • What’s Next? Hiroshi Tanahashi is now a double champion as the NEVER 6-Man Champion along Okada and Ishii, but also the NJPW WORLD TV Champion. Along with his new responsibilities as company president, it is exciting to see what 2024 brings the Ace. As for The Frontman SZJ – I am hoping this means that with the departure of key players in 2024 that it could finally mean that Zack will move onto things like winning the G1 and the World Heavyweight Championship which is long overdue.

Tanahashi Addressed the crowd after the match both as wrestler, new champion and most crucially as new company president.

Special Singles Match (1/30): Yuya Uemura (J5G) defeated Yota Tsuji (LIJ) vs. (10:57) – Kannuki (Deadbolt) Suplex

When Tsuji, Umino and Narita were tasked with the mantle of the Reiwa Three Musketeers, Uemura was noticeably omitted from the future pillars announcement. However, if we’re to tear out a page from the literary reference, what are The Three Musketeers without the arrival of young and hungry D’Artagnan? Much like Narita and Umino before them, the returns of Yota Tsuji and Yuya Uemura have ben thrust into the spotlight and that tight conversation of who can lead the company into the future. While Uemura left for excursion as a junior heavyweight, returning to face Tsuji as a heavyweight has been one of the biggest delights. 

Their fight was fierce and exceeded expectations for a first singles match back. I feel like intentionally waiting this long to allow them to fight one another shows how much the company values this rivalry moving forward. With the return of Uemura, the fourth Musketeer and future company pillar is not firmly in place. For Uemura to share his first post-match singles in the Dome with his classmate in Tsuji, I feel like the table is comfortably set for the future of the company. 

  • Verdict: Recommended 
  • What’s Next? Uemura has a championship promise with SANADA, now it’s up for the Champion to uphold his end of the bargain. As for Tsuji, I am certain he is also keeping a trained eye on the main event as well.

Special Tag Match (1/30): EVIL & Ren Narita (HoT) defeated Shota Umino & Kaito Kiyomiya (NOAH) (7:06) – Narita pinning Umino after the Double Cross (and assistance from Kanemaru, SHO, Togo and Yujiro)
After their 12-Man Elimination Match at NOAH THE NEW YEAR earlier this week, in which, Kiyomiya eliminated EVIL last to secure the win for Team N(JPW)OAH alongside Umino, I was fairly confident that House of Torture would arrive en force to ‘backup’ EVIL and Narita, especially after a rather understated showing in the KOPW Rumble earlier in the evening. 

While Ryohei Oiwa seconded Kiyomiya and Umino at ringside, there was definitely an imbalance in support without NOAH or NJPW wrestlers in the red corner. Thankfully, this match was less than a third of the time compared to what transpired on Monday. To keep the spotlight on the Umino/Narita rivalry, it was The Roughneck caught looking at the Tokyo Dome ceiling after Narita crushed him with a Double Cross and a lot of help from his HoT Frienemies.

  • Verdict: Worth a Watch 
  • What’s Next? Umino heads back to the drawing board, but thankfully with Kiyomiya still as an ally. I do hope they get that singles match with a proper build and this more balanced NJPW x NOAH relationship continues moving forward. 

NEVER Openweight Championship (1/60): Tama Tonga defeated Shingo Takagi (c) (13:46) –  DSD/Pin combo; Tonga becomes the 42nd Champion; stopped Takagi at V1

THIS. MATCH. For those who follow Bruce Lord and I with our NJPW coverage, this was a rematch that we understood why it was happening, but wondered what could possibly be left in the tank between the two of them as they’ve seemed to have quarterly clashes since the middle of last year. First, it was the 20-minute time limit draw in the G1 in July and then again in October at Fighting Spirit Unleashed (26-minutes). 

With a potential 60-minutes available to them, I wondered how long this match would be. I am glad that Tonga and Takagi discovered the NJPW WORLD TV Championship Recipe and condensed everything they did in the G1, shaved off about six-minutes and spiced it up with a whole bunch of extra fun! This is the match I knew they both had in the, and was happy to finally see them lay out at the Dome. 

  • Verdict: Highly Recommended 
  • What’s Next? No challengers yet, but I am already thinking up a queue for Tonga. Now, that Tonga is in his FOURTH reign with the NEVER Championship in just TWO years, let him breathe and have at least half a year with it. Give him Tom Lawlor, Ishii, HENARE, Umino… everyone. Make this reign mean something.

IWGP Tag Team & NJPW STRONG Openweight Tag Championship (1/60): G.O.D. (El Phantasmo & Hikuleo) (c)STRONG defeated Bishamon (Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI) (c)IWGP vs. (9:47) – Hikuleo pinned Goto after Thunder Kiss ‘91; G.O.D. become the 100th IWGP Tag Champions & get V4 as NJPW STRONG Champion

When World Tag League concluded with the announcement of a double gold rematch at the behest of the 2023 WTL Winners, Bishamon, all signs pointed to G.O.D. potentially cementing themselves as the new cornerstone for the Openweight and Heavyweight Divisions. For the bulk of 2023, Bishamon and the newly minted combo of G.O.D. V2 dominated the tag divisions, so I am hoping this blow off match finally gives Bishamon the break they need and G.O.D. V2 the platform to forge the next generation of history making names. Since they couldn’t go 50 minutes at the WTL final, this short and sweet match felt like the last bit of business between the two teams for now.  

  • Verdict: Recommended
  • What’s Next? The jury is still out as to if there will be a merging of the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Championships and the NJPW STRONG Openweight Championships or if contenders will need to specify which set they wish to challenge for. With the Nemeth brothers being escorted to ringside prior to the match, there is the possibility they’re also on the short list as well. 

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship (1/60): El Desperado defeated Hiromu Takahashi (14:21) – Avalanche Brainbuster-PInch Loco-Pin trifecta; Desperado stops Hiromu at V7 to become the 94th Champion

Outside of his Deathmatch Formal, El Desperado has long favored black, gold and white, but seeing him making his entrance with a noticeable new signature accent: red. Red for his love of deathmatches and more crucially for his forever rival, Hiromu Takahashi. This was another guaranteed safe choice to be on the card as Desperado and Hiromu have not only had some of the best junior singles matches in the last few years, but they’ve been names consistently linked with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. 

Desperado is naturally another solid name and consummate professional the company can lean on to lead the Junior heavyweights. They took all their S-Tier menu items and boiled it down into easily a must-see if not a MOTYC four days into 2024. 

  • Verdict: HIGHLY Recommended (as if you didn’t already know!)
  • What’s Next? I could easily see Master Wato, YOH and SHO chomping at the bit to get their hands on Desperado. Rocky Romero keeps reminding everyone that he’s never held the Jr. singles championship and KUSHIDA might take umbrage with Despy claiming the number 94 for his own. Curious to know if Hiromu will continue in the Junior Heavyweight ranks or if he’ll finally consider fighting Openweight. Imagine Hiromu versus Tama Tonga. Just sayin’…

Inaugural IWGP Global Heavyweight Championship 3-Way (1/60): David Finlay defeated Will Ospreay vs. Jon Moxley vs. (22:17) – Finlay pins Ospreay after Overkill to become the Inaugural Champion

With the announcement of Will Ospreay being signed to AEW, his entrance alone felt like a swan song and a love letter to everyone who supported his time in New Japan. His five-minute gentlemen’s agreement peace pact with Moxley so they could take Finlay to task for inserting himself into their match, was accentuated by driving Finlay together through a table. 

It quickly devolved into the hardcore matches that Moxley popularized in NJPW STRONG in particular, where he and Ospreay’s rivalry really took off. However, with Mox and now Ospreay now signed with AEW, from the moment Finlay was inserted into the match (and he being the cart Gedo is currently hitched to), there was no denying who would be standing tall at the end of it. Neither Mox nor Ospreay needed to be protected by the run-in of Gabe Kidd and Alex Coughlin, and if anything it sort of softened the impact Finlay needed to solidify himself at the top of the Heel Hill in NJPW. 

Personally, I liked seeing Finlay holding his own between Mox and Ospreay, it reminded me of Jay White or KENTA in the sense that he largely fought the battle on his own. His desperation to steal everything from both Mox and Ospreay was deliciously palpable. Finlay sending Ospreay packing with a final look at the Tokyo Dome lights was poetic, but also the passing of the torch that he needed. 

My only qualm with the IWGP Global Heavyweight Championship is the naming, as Pro-Wrestling NOAH has their longstanding top championship: The Global Honored Crown Heavyweight Championship. I love the design and the white strap, but I sincerely wished there was a different nomenclature to avoid any confusion moving forward.  

  • Verdict: Recommended 
  • What’s Next? A NEW CHALLENGER HAS ARRIVED?! Free Agent Nick Nemeth (formerly WWE’s Dolph Ziggler) was not only caught ringside with his brother, but decided to push himself to the front of the queue as the potential first challenger. Finlay picked a fight and Nemeth chased him to the back to finish it. 

Special Singles Match (1/60): Kazuchika Okada defeated Bryan Danielson (23:24) – Rainmaker/Pin

The Okada/Danielson NJPW/AEW rivalry has been one of the pairings that I think brought a lot of international fans to NJPW via the AEW window. Their series has not been without injuries, Danielson’s arm and left eye, but neither seemed to hinder Danielson throughout the match. For the last year, we’ve seen a seemingly black hat villain in white hat hero threads with Okada, and this series with Danielson really made Okada feel like peak Rainmaker, arrogant almost to a fault, but in the best possible way. 

If you want a master class in calculated violence, especially when it comes to submissions, I would push this one to the top of your viewing queue immediately. His attempt at practically ripping Okada’s “Rainmaker” arm out of the socket and trying to force him to submit verbally or opt to pass out was elegant yet gruesome. I don’t know if we’ll ever see Bryan Danielson in a G1 or at the Tokyo Dome again, but hot dog I will never forget the goosebumps I had hearing 25,000+ in the Tokyo Dome doing the ”YES!” chant.

  • Verdict: HIGHLY Recommended (YES! YES! YES!)
  • What’s Next? I don’t know, but I would definitely like to see it again… in the far future.

IWGP World Heavyweight Championship (1/60): Tetsuya Naito (2023 G1 Climax Winner) defeated SANADA (c) vs. (25:42) – Destino/Pin; Naito stops SANADA at V6 to become the 8th Champion

The journey of seventeen years culminated in tonight’s main event. From their entrance exam to the main event of the Tokyo Dome with time together in Los Ingobernables de Japon and their IWGP Tag Team Championship run to SANADA finally winning the New Japan Cup and electing to leave the comfy nest of LIJ. This match was packed with history and complicated emotions, especially with what felt like SANADA’s entire reign feeling eclipsed by Naito’s annual desire to main event the Dome, further solidified by his win of the 2023 G1 CLIMAX. 

Although Naito cycled through all of his usual rudo shenanigans, there felt like he had a certain hesitancy where SANADA was concerned. SANADA’s departure from LIJ was understandable, necessary, and bittersweet because it needed to happen. This was in stark contrast to EVIL unceremonious betrayal and defection to Bullet Club to set up the House of Torture. While LIJ and Just5Guys crossed paths from time to time, Naito’s time off due to third and final eye surgery actually gave this main event the breathing room necessary to make it worth the wait. 

I am a huge fangirl when it comes to wrestlers stealing one another’s moves mid-match, so when SANADA and Naito started getting fancy with one another, it felt like a breath of fresh air. As much as I wanted SANADA to retain, I needed Naito to finish his story since he’s been teasing retirement for years now. Whether or not he actually follows through is a different story, but I loved that this match wasn’t a grudge match, but more of a love letter to their time in LIJ and NJPW together.

Does Naito Finish the Story?!

I remember the Tokyo Dome in 2020 when KENTA rolled up and decidedly ruined Naito’s big LIJ roll call, and LIJ fans have waited with baited breath ever since. When EVIL elected to reprise the role by interrupting Naito, I honestly cackled because it would have been both poetic but infuriating at the same time that after all this time, four years from Dome to Dome that Naito still would leave the story incomplete. However, unlike 2020, EVIL didn’t account for his own former tag team partner, SANADA still being nearby.

Although SANADA already stood strong despite losing to Naito once more, his dispatching of EVIL reminded the NJPW World that although he chose to strike out and blaze his own path, at his heart, LIJ is still part of his own history. Naito finally completed the long await “full LIJ” roll call, but since SANADA and EVIL are now leading their own groups, their inclusion in the post-match brawl was a nice touch to make sure fans remember the last four years and how– way back when– SANADA and EVIL were two of the foundation members of LIJ long before Hiromu, Takagi, Titan and Yota Tsuji

  • Verdict: Highly Recommended
  • What’s Next? SANADA promised a championship match with Yuya Uemura and Yota Tsuji said he would have his crosshairs on Naito… while Naito still had machinations for that Anniversary show with Hiromu, so we’ll have to see what shakes out in the next few days!

Closing Thoughts

As a show, WK18 really impressed me. I enjoyed it and any real frustrations I had stemmed from technical issues I had with the new NJPW WORLD streaming platform. I wished I could watch it in real time, but it was certainly worth the wait. 

NEW YEAR DASH!! will continue the tradition of announcing the full card the day of the show with the exception of the KOPW Finalist 4-Way for the provisional champion.


Upcoming Schedule (Full 2024 Schedule)

  • NEW YEAR DASH!! (1/5) Sumida City Gymnasium
  • Battle in the Valley (1/13) San Jose Civic Center, California
  • New Beginning in NAGOYA (1/20) Dolphins Arena, Aichi
  • New Beginning in OSAKA (2/11) Edion Arena
  • Fantastica Mania (2/12-19) Various venues
  • New Beginning in SAPPORO (2/23-24) Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center Kitayell

January 2024 Podcast JPN Coverage

  • TODAY!! Wrestle Kingdom 18 POST Show (1/4) w/ John Pollock, Wai Ting & Bruce Lord
  • POST PURORESU (1/6) w/ WH Park & myself
  • Battle in the Valley POST Show (1/14) w/ Bruce Lord & myself
About Karen Peterson 113 Articles
Occasionally drops by wrestling podcasts, but remains rather elusive. Joined the Japanese wrestling fan scene in summer 2017, and continues to work on bridging the language gap between fans. Outside of wrestling, she’s a dog mom, perpetual Japanese learner, and when conditions permit, world traveler. Never skips dessert.