The long-awaited night is finally here. For the first time, we’ll be to actually call this the January 5 Dome Show! Silly as that sounds, this is serious stuff here, a monumental and historic night for pro wrestling. Wrestle Kingdom 14 is one double the scope of everything that has come before it, a full weekend of wrestling greatness. And now we’re here on Night 2, where things are heating up more than ever before.
I’m Jordan Huie of the Overtimer, and it’s a good thing my sleep schedule was already a great big mess by the end of last year! Otherwise I’d never be able to stick with you for the entirety of these shows! It’s a great trade-off, if you ask me. I’ll be previewing the action for tonight, just as I did for Night 1, so let’s get to it!
No more messing around now. What may well go down as one of the most historic and significant matches in New Japan’s history occurs tonight.
Double Gold Dash – IWGP Heavyweight & IWGP Intercontinental Championships: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Tetsuya Naito (c)
This is the big one. The main event of Night 2 of Wrestle Kingdom 14, the first of it’s kind in many ways. The two top prizes in New Japan – one might even say the two most prestigious titles in all of Japanese wrestling today – both up for grabs.
In addition, it’s also likely to be the big grand finale of a very high profile rivalry. Or atleast, it’s as big as a match between these two can possibly get. Kazuchika Okada is the ace of New Japan Pro Wrestling, without a doubt their top guy and has been for basically eight years now. In that same timeframe, Tetsuya Naito has also established a top star, but one with much fewer accolades in comparison, particularly as it relates to the IWGP Heavyweight title.
Okada has famously held New Japan’s top title five times and has done so for a combined 1,790 days and counting. That’s a record, far beyond any others. Legendary former ace Hiroshi Tanahashi comes at a distant second with 1,396 days, and given that Okada is still just 32 somehow, it’s not out of the question that his total ends up being over 3,000 before he hangs it up.
Naito, conversely, has only held the title once… for 70 days. Of the 29 men to have held that tile, this places him in the bottom 1/3rd of Heavyweight champions, atleast as things stand now. But these things aren’t necessarily measured by records.
In spite of this difference, Tetsuya Naito is one of the most popular wrestlers in Japan’s history, an icon of the modern age.
A phrase I’ve coined in the past is that of a Counter-Culture Ace. Someone who might not necessarily be the face of New Japan due to their character, style or some other facet, but stands as the rebel’s choice. The alternative face of the company. Shinsuke Nakamura once held a similar spot in New Japan and it was always my thought that Tetsuya Naito ended up taking his place.
Naito is the one who leads the coolest, most beloved stable in Japan, Los Ingobernables de Japon, a group that prides itself on loyalty to one another, a bond based around refusing to care what the outside world thinks of them. Okada’s Chaos, by comparison, is thrown-together, disjointed and has never really had much of an appeal as a group. Naito and LIJ are the top merch sellers for the company and have been for quite some time. It’s a story any WWE fan would likely be familiar with. Tetsuya Naito may not necessarily be the promotion’s choice, but he is, in many ways, the choice of the people.
And this may just be his last chance to establish himself as an all-time great.
Naito’s health is something that’s been on the minds of many. He doesn’t go hard every match per say, but any major bout he has is sure to be filled with dangerous head drops, and the style has definitely taken it’s toll. He had an infamous series of bouts with Kota Ibushi last year that at one point became so uncomfortable to watch for some that the two of them seemed apologetic about it ruining people’s experience after the fact.
At 37 years of age and with 14 years worth of destructive bumps in his time, Naito’s prime is coming to a close and he himself has made it clear in interviews that he doesn’t think he can do this at a high level for much longer. It’s hard to say what state he’ll be in when we go into 2021, 2022… and this is only the second time he’s gotten the chance to headline the Tokyo Dome. It may well be the final one he’ll ever get.
It’s also one last shot at redemption. For while it’s only his second time headlining New Japan’s biggest show, it’s the third time he’s challenged Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight title here. (Their first match not main eventing due to a fan vote giving that spot to the IC title match instead was a big catalyst for Naito becoming the man he is now.) And both of the other times, he lost. He’s defeated Okada before, even took the title off of him before, but never on this stage. At the Tokyo Dome it’s just a completely different story.
There can be no greater means of signifying a major rivalry in New Japan history than by having it headline the Dome more than once.
This is the bout they went with, the only thing they felt was big enough to headline the most significant weekend in their existence. This is Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena, folks. It’s Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan. It’s as big as it gets.
It’s now or never for Tetsuya Naito. And I dare say… the time is now. Naito over, all shall be tranquilo.