New Japan Pro Wrestling kicked off 2021 with a strong start. Here are five predictions to look forward to before we welcome in 2022.
New Japan kicked off the year with a show so good I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the best show of the year when we look back in December. Wrestle Kingdom as always delivered a wrestling and storytelling masterclass with a stacked two night card including the likes of Kazuchika Okada vs Will Ospreay and Kota Ibushi vs Tetsuya Naito, which were certified bangers when they were announced.
So given such a strong start, it’s fair to say we can expect New Japan to continue their rich vein of wrestling and story crafting. As wrestling fans though, we are gluttons for industry-defining and bold moments to come out of our favourite promotions, for better or for worse. As such, here are my bold predictions for what New Japan will offer in 2021.
Jay White vs Ibushi will be the new Okada vs Omega
Okada vs Omega propelled the career of The Cleaner, as it should have, Omega was a ready-made replacement for AJ Styles following his move to WWE. He had taken over as the foreign invader leader of The Bullet Club and therefore transcended to main event prominence.
Everything Omega did was watched by the New Japan faithful and he seemed destined for great things. His world title matches with Kazuchika Okada are some of the best wrestling you will ever see as they shared a legendary series of bouts hailing more stars than you’ll see in the sky.
Since Omega’s departure to AEW, NJPW has needed someone worthy of walking the same path he and Styles walked previously. Taking centre stage therefore was Jay White, the Kiwi had already been groomed as the next big thing against Omega prior, beating him for the IWGP US title.
Like the previously mentioned departures, Jay White took leadership of Bullet Club, and promised to bring the grit the Club were known for before The Elite. Some things for me have never clicked with Jay White, he has always felt like he was missing something, like he had never been able to switch up a gear.
Kota Ibushi on the other hand, had always felt like he was destined to take his place atop the New Japan throne. The former partner of Kenny Omega and the only man to kick out of the One-Winged Angel, Ibushi has been a mainstay of Japanese wrestling, aside from his occasional stint in the west such as The Cruiserweight Classic. On night one of Wrestle Kingdom, Ibushi rose to the occasion to overcome Naito for the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental titles.
Night two had a date between the Switchblade and the new champ set, and truly represented a battle of light vs dark.
Kota Ibushi and Jay White share a similar history together in New Japan, they have both been at the end of shortcomings and repeated setbacks. The difference comes in their resolve however, Jay White used Bullet Club to rise to the top, and Ibushi made use of hard work, grit and determination.
Therefore, Jay White is what Ibushi would be if he were corrupted by his losses. This yin and yang story between the two makes for great wrestling, and Wrestle Kingdom is where Jay White stepped it up. Even in loss White has managed to prove he deserves his place on the card and cemented that he is worth the investment New Japan have made.
The parallels between the Omega and Okada series and White vs Ibushi are plain to see, and I predict that 2021 will see a similar route taken to before.
AEW x NJPW
AEW and Kenny Omega made waves when the latter one the former’s world title in a controversial fashion. Impact EVP Don Callis interfered to allow Kenny to beat Jon Moxley before running off with the new champion and informing the watching audience that they would have to tune into Impact to find out what’s happening.
We enter 2021 with Impact and AEW featuring each other’s stars heavily. Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows closed out Dynamite with Omega and The Young Bucks and Omega has engaged in a feud with Impact world champion Rich Swann.
The alliance between the two North American promotions indicates an intention from AEW to work with other promotions to deliver great storylines and wrestling product. That is why I think in 2021 we will finally see NJPW and AEW join forces in a similar way. Jon Moxley has already been batting for both sides as the AEW world champion and IWGP US titleholder and there’s a plethora of stars with history in the east.
Kenny Omega’s current gimmick is that of a title collector and we could see him extend a challenge to his Golden Lovers teammate Kota Ibushi for the IWGP world title. Or otherwise with Bullet Club seemingly reuniting on Dynamite could we see AEW’s and NJPW’s versions go head to head? The potential for this deal is endless and I can see, subject to pandemic, the two promotions tying the knot on a promotional deal that has been clamoured for since the inception of AEW.
Kenny Omega will face Kota Ibushi
This prediction is of course subject to the prior prediction. There is one certainty to the deal if it does indeed happen, Omega and Ibushi will cross paths again. Both the Golden Lovers sit atop their respective company’s thrones with opposing means to get there and this once again makes for a good yin and yang storyline. Ibushi scratched and clawed his way to the title whereas Omega made use of illegitimate means. So far Omega has been unable to beat Ibushi and could pose as the one blemish on The Cleaner’s record that Omega feels compelled to rectify.
In 2021 we will see Kenny Omega vs Kota Ibushi, Lover vs Lover, Champion vs Champion, AEW vs NJPW.
The Good Brothers will return to Japan
When Gallows and Anderson were released by WWE last year, everyone speculates where they would land next. The general consensus was that they would be headed to Japan, where they had a successful stint with the Bullet Club. Alas, they went to Impact, where they captured gold soon after. They have been prominently featured with Kenny Omega and Don Callis recently and even reunited with The Young Bucks recently to tease Bullet Club in North America.
But with restrictions on travel looking to diminish this year, I predict that we will see The Good Brothers return to New Japan. The only thing left to question is in which way they will return. I have alluded to the potential for a Bullet Club East vs West previously which would be a perfect way for The Good Brothers to return to New Japan and reclaim the IWGP tag team gold off of the Guerillas of Destiny Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa. No matter the case I expect 2021 will see The Good Brothers return to the top of New Japan’s Tag division.
Expect to see Tommy End
Tommy End is currently plying his trade as Aleister Black in the WWE. But he hasn’t been featured for months and the situation doesn’t appear to be getting future for the husband of released star Thea Trinidad, FKA Zelina Vega.
It’s a reasonable expectation that if the situation between Black and WWE doesn’t get better in the near future then he will be swiftly departing for greener pastures.
Although in the situation of his release he will be speculated to move to North American promotions like AEW and Impact, I reckon he would be better suited to a run in New Japan.
He makes use of a strong style of wrestling which could make for good matchups with the likes of Tomohiro Ishii and Minoru Suzuki and also has the ability to go with the likes of Okada and Ibushi. The main reason I think we will see Tommy End in New Japan is a signing to propel their mainstream audience in the US. We could even see him challenge US champion Moxley for the belt in order for a more full time champion.
If WWE doesn’t make use of Aleister Black sooner rather than later, then it would make sense for Tommy End to debut in New Japan as a new foreign invader.
What predictions did we miss? Have any other ideas? Feel free to add them in the comments section!