New Japan Pro Wrestling has been suffering from somewhat of a slump within the last year, due to multiple reasons, namely including the pandemic – which caused issues around the wrestling world. There was certainly a turning point prior to that though, and that was following Wrestle Kingdom 13 at the Tokyo Dome. The event was the end of an era in NJPW, and the company hasn’t felt the same since.
The Birth Of AEW Signalled Warning Signs For NJPW
Though it had been brewing for well over a year, just a few days before Wrestle Kingdom took place on January 4th, 2019, the creation of brand new US wrestling company, AEW, was announced by The Elite – a group of wrestlers including the likes of Kenny Omega, Cody Rhodes, and The Young Bucks. Cody and The Bucks announced their signing for AEW the following day, with Omega’s future up in the air, but with the anticipation that he would follow suit sooner rather than later.
However, at the time of the announcement, Cody, The Bucks, and Omega were all set to compete at NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom. With the newfound knowledge of AEW taking off, fans were aware that this was likely the last appearance for these talents in the company, at least for the foreseeable future.
The Elite Brought Widespread Appeal To The Company, And Were Huge Assets
These individuals had been huge parts of NJPW, dominating much of the card in different divisions. Being from stateside, they brought international appeal as top stars and lots of eyes from around the world. At the time, New Japan was perhaps one of, if not the single hottest wrestling company in the world, and it was helped to that point by many of these names, even after losing the likes of AJ Styles, The Good Brothers, and Shinsuke Nakamura a few years prior to WWE.
In losing these stars, the company lost a lot of stability. In particular, with Kenny Omega, who held the company’s top championship, and produced some of the best contests in modern wrestling in his series against Kazuchika Okada, in which some even consider the greatest matches of all time. Losing a star who was widely acknowledged as the premier in-ring wrestler in the world, and their champion no less, was going to be undoubtedly a hit on the company as a whole.
Wrestle Kingdom 13 Was Unsurprisingly A Great Show
The show itself was of the standard high quality of this era of NJPW, with The Elite members all going out on their backs. The Young Bucks lost in a triple threat IWGP World Tag Team Championship match, losing to Los Ingobernables de Japon, in a match including the Guerrillas of Destiny. Cody dropped the IWGP United States Championship to Juice Robinson, putting over his opponent in a short contest due to Cody working hurt.
In the main event of the show, Hiroshi Tanahashi toppled the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kenny Omega, in an epic showdown between generations, having the best match on an electric card. Elsewhere during the event, the ramifications of AEW would also be felt, with ‘Hangman’ Adam Page making his last appearance for the company, effectively leaving The Bullet Club. Chris Jericho would also drop the IWGP Intercontinental Championship to Tetsuya Naito, and though he would make sporadic appearances following the show, he eventually parted ways, sticking with AEW for good.
Elsewhere on the card, big names impressed in huge matches, with future World Champions, Will Ospreay and Kota Ibushi opening the show in a stunning contest, Zack Sabre Jr defeating Tomohiro Ishii in a clash of styles, and Jay White toppling top guy Okada in a shocker. Whilst these matches lay the foundations for the future of NJPW, it was never quite the same without The Elite.
NJPW Has Experienced A Decline Ever Since
Questionable booking over the next few years would follow, perhaps in response to losing these big names. At the following year’s Wrestle Kingdom, the company made history in producing a two-night event, with Tetsuya Naito winning both the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships in a Double Gold Dash main event on Night Two. From there though, things went downhill, from even the aftermath of that main event match, as the show ended with a heel ambush by KENTA, in a move complete out of left field from what NJPW usually produces in these big shows. The angle was followed up poorly, with no true pay-off or super-push for KENTA.
The two titles would eventually be unified into the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship which, due to booking and injury, has been considered a flop by some, especially since retiring the acclaimed and loved Intercontinental Championship. New Japan has experienced a rough period, especially since taking a break during the pandemic rather than producing empty arena shows. And the beginning of this steady decline was the loss of those huge stars who brought so much attention to the company.
These wrestlers only briefly held the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, NJPW’s top prize.
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