the Anti Elite Wrestlekingdom

Seven in the Chamber: Tama Tonga on 7 Years of BULLET CLUB (2/2) | NEW  JAPAN PRO-WRESTLING

At the start of 2019, no question that the biggest story in wrestling, was maybe one of the biggest wrestling stories in decades… All Elite Wrestling was going to be a thing. Led by Tony Khan we would soon see the likes of Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks, Adam Page and later Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega as the star names that would lead the company going forward. Now whilst most of us were delighted and very excited about this new promotion, there were some losers from the creation of AEW… WWE had eyes on every member of The Elite, and the talks between Triple H and Matt & Nick Jackson have been well publicized… I even recall speaking to a friend at one point when my GENUINE belief was that Kenny Omega would win the Royal Rumble match that year… Although difficult to say an exact date, at some point during this time; Cody, Adam Page and The Young Bucks are all offered deals to join WWE. Those deals included creative freedom for them to go on either the main roster or NXT, a home for all their digital content (presumably this meant Being The Elite being on the WWE Network). It appears WWE had seen the success of the All In show and decided to act. The Hangman was offered ‘main roster money to work NXT’ where he would’ve been pushed as one of the brand’s top stars, Cody and The Bucks would’ve got great financial deals comparable to the then recently dethroned WWE Champion AJ Styles. They would’ve also been given maybe the most amazing caveat of the lot… reportedly they were to be given a 6 month window should they sign, basically allowing them to walk away from WWE after 6 months of their 3 year deals should they be unhappy with how things had worked out to that point. Plans were even in place to have the group debut at the 2019 Royal Rumble PPV with a ‘significant storyline from Rumble to Mania’.

But… after 12 hours of talks with Triple H… it was not to be… And of course with The Elite heading to begin AEW, it would mean them cutting ties with their former homes Ring Of Honor in the US, and New Japan Pro Wrestling internationally.

Now think about this… sure New Japan have lost big names in recent years (to WWE) and even lost Gallows & Anderson, AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura all at the same time one year… And they seemed to take it as well as they could (Gallows & Anderson got to do a proper farewell and Styles and Nakamura had a BANGER of a match at that year’s Wrestle Kingdom)… This time around things turned out VERY different… Off the back of the growth of the Bullet Club, and the increase in business and interest in the company after the Jericho vs Omega match and the amazing Okada vs Omega series, New Japan’s growth sky-rocketed. They had made plans for a WrestleMania weekend supershow alongside ROH at the famous Madison Square Garden, where you’d of thought that those names who were AEW bound would feature… but of course it wouldn’t turn out that way…

Now I will try and give you a quick timeline of what news broke and what took place in the days leading up to the Wrestle Kingdom show of 2019 on January 4th, just to try and give you an idea of how quickly things seemed to develop, and how things changed so dramatically…

  • December 18th 2018: At Ring Of Honor’s final PPV of the year ‘Final Battle’; Adam Page loses in the opener, Cody loses the semi main, and The Young Bucks fail to win in the main event of the show.
  • January 1st 2019: All Elite Wrestling, as well as their first PPV ‘Double Or Nothing’ are officially announced. The re veal taking place on a Being The Elite episode with the Young Bucks, Cody and Adam Page featured. Brandi Rhodes and the SCU group are featured in the advertising notes for a rally event scheduled for January 8th, with other ‘special guests’ teased.
  • January 2nd 2019: A statement confirms Cody, Matt & Nick Jackson will be EVPs for AEW as well as in-ring performers.
  • January 3rd 2019: On the eve of New Japan’s biggest show of the year, rumours are abound that their reigning champion Kenny Omega would be joining his fellow Elite members in their new venture. With his contract expiring he is also linked with a shocking defection over to WWE. Chris Jericho, in the semi-main of the same Wrestle Kingdom show, is also linked with the new company. Those rumours only intensify after Jericho days earlier posted a picture of him attending a Jacksonville Jaguars NFL game (the team owned and ran by the same Khan family that now own and run AEW).

So given all these names were to be a part of New Japan’s biggest show of the year, and Kenny Omega was in the main event of the show as defending champion, now what? We all pretty much knew what was going on with regards to these guys’ future, but think about just how much they had each contributed to New Japan’s growth… And I will also add (before I get in to talking about the show itself) there were plenty of ideas at the very start of AEW that they could/would partner up with NJPW (they eventually did as we know… but it took a LONG time and a change of president for New Japan), it became very apparent very quickly that the clauses in many AEW contracts that would allow various wrestlers to go and work for New Japan wouldn’t be being activated any time soon… Put it this way… New Japan, their then president Harold Meij and head booker Gedo did NOT appear to take these departures well AT ALL…

Now… what you have to bare in mind when I talk about this show and the results, is that when Wrestle Kingdom 13 took place we still weren’t sure if/what any potential New Japan-AEW partnership or relationship would or wouldn’t look like. At this point (given we were DAYS since AEW was even announced officially as a thing) EVERYTHING really was still a possibility… and so when it comes to this show at the Tokyo Dome, when looking at booking of the matches we really didn’t know how much the creation of AEW would influence how the show would go. So I’ll run down the matches on the show that include talent that were talked about or would eventually sign with AEW… I would do the full show but honestly it was so incredibly good (I watched it back for this blog and it was such a pleasure), I don’t think I’d be able to do this show justice in this blog so I think just talking about certain matches would be fairer…

So… let me run you through just some of the matches on the card and give you some more background on storylines and build up and what the ‘rumour and innuendo’ was about certain names was at that time…

  • The Most Violent Players (Togi Makabe and Toru Yano) and Ryusuke Taguchi vs Yuji Nagata, Jeff Cobb and David Finlay vs Chaos (Hirooki Goto, Beretta and Chuckie T) vs Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Lance Archer and Davey Boy Smith Jr.) vs The Elite (Hangman Page, Yujiro Takahashi and Marty Scurll) (with Chase Owens and Pieter) – Adam Page’s ROH and NJPW deals were approaching expiry, so there was plenty of speculation he would be on his way to the newly forming AEW. Here he was part of the… maybe the phrase would be ‘lesser-pushed’ members of Bullet Club in the show’s pre-show match. This was to crown the number 1 contenders for the NEVER Openweight 6-man titles, so you’d think the winners would be featured in the future when they want to do the match with the champions (which they actually did at their New Year’s Dash show the day after the Tokyo Dome show)
  • Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa) (with Bad Luck Fale and Jado) vs Los Ingobernables de Japón (Sanada and Evil) vs The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson) – The Young Bucks were seen as one of the lead names heading to AEW, and had even made a BTE storyline out of Triple H’s and WWE’s attempted signing of them. Matt Jackson has even said since that (during this time) he at one point told his wife that ‘I think we’re going to WWE’
  • Juice Robinson vs Cody (with Brandi Rhodes) – Given the ongoing storyline New Japan had been telling between Juice and Cody over the IWGP US title, the result here seemed to point to Juice getting his big moment… regardless the rumours still persisted that Cody would be another to join AEW… or even WWE too. Triple H and WWE were said to want ALL of The Elite and Cody was absolutely a part of that. Given his name value from his time in WWE many assumed that after his spell away from the company and how successful that had been, they would have no issue in brining him back now (in a fashion they have since done with Drew McIntyre for example), and make him a top star.
  • Tetsuya Naito vs Chris Jericho – Give Jericho had beaten Naito at Dominion the previous year, many assumed that regardless of contractual talk around Jericho that he would do the honours back to Naito here. For the longest time Jericho had said he would never work in the US for anyone other than Vince McMahon, and aside from his cameo at the ALL IN show he had done just that. He even went back to WWE to do the Greatest Royal Rumble show after his previous WrestleKingdom match (a match in which he even spoke to Vince McMahon about to gain his thoughts on). So Jericho was another big free agent who seemingly had all offers and options on the table…
  • Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kenny Omega – We have seen it so many times in the past where you have as big main event title match, but you know one guy is leaving so you assume the result… and as we grew closer to this show the speculation around Kenny Omega (who’s New Japan deal was up towards the end of January) only heightened with each day. All indications and reports pointed to Omega leaving New Japan, and for he also the WWE seemingly open offer was there, but so to was the chance to start-up AEW with some of his closest friends. This story has been built as a battle between two styles and philosophies on wrestling, but the increasing rumours of Omega leaving New Japan seemed to go hand in hand with a slight twist to the storytelling, that more and more presented Omega’s opinion as the more heelish of the two…

So what happened at the show then? Well, if you were watching the show with your Elite fanboy-tinted eyes like I was, it was not a fun show for you…

Makabe, Yano and Taguchi won the pre show match, Sanada & Evil won the tag titles, Juice Robinson won the US title (although this one had been built up for a long time story-wise, so you probably saw this one coming). The Elite were 0-3. Elsewhere the semi-main was an absolute brawl between Naito and Jericho, and it was GREAT. Just a proper fight with Naito getting a big win, and it was another we saw coming so maybe it didn’t have much to do with the contractual rumours around at the time.

And then finally… we had the main event…

In what was called ‘one of the greatest matches ever in the history of the Tokyo Dome’ Hiroshi Tanahashi did indeed beat Kenny Omega to once again win the IWGP Heavyweight title in the main event. The was no ‘One Winged Angel’ kick out as many thought might happen. And this was assumed because Kenny was sticking around? Or maybe he just didn’t want to give that rub to Tana? Maybe a bit of both or neither? For the record over 3 years later and still nobody has kicked out of that move. From Kenny anyway…

The Elite between them had 4 matches on the Wrestle Kingdom 13 show. They lost all 4.

So the traditional post-WrestleKingdom show from New Japan is called ‘New Year’s Dash’. It usually contains a number of multi man matches, and features either farewells or new angles to set up big feuds for the shows going forward. It is essentially their version of the ‘Raw after Mania’… In previous years we have had the 2020 retirement ceremony of Jushin Thunder Liger, 2018 saw Jericho attack Naito to commence their feuds, 2019 we PRESUMED we would have SOMETHING related to The Elite and possible sign off segments, maybe they all get kicked out officially of the Bullet Club?

Instead… The New Year’s Dash card (which is never announced ahead of time and is always at the beginning of the show itself) for 2019 was as follows…

  • Roppongi 3K (Rocky Romero, Sho & Yoh) defeated Suzuki-gun (Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr., Lance Archer) & Takashi Iizuka)
  • The Elite (Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi) (with Pieter) defeated Toa Henare & Tomoaki Honma
  • FinJuice (David Finlay & Juice Robinson) defeated Best Friends (Beretta & Chuckie T) by disqualification
  • Chaos (Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii & Will Ospreay) defeated Jeff Cobb, Kushida & Yuji Nagata
  • Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori, Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c) defeated Ryusuke Taguchi, Togi Makabe & Toru Yano for the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship
  • Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Zack Sabre Jr.) defeated Los Ingobernables de Japón (Bushi, Evil, Sanada, Shingo Takagi & Tetsuya Naito)
  • Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Gedo & Jay White) defeated Chaos (Kazuchika Okada & Yoshi-Hashi) & Hiroshi Tanahashi

Notice anything?

Yes indeed… No Kenny Omega. No Young Bucks. No Adam Page. No Cody. No Jericho even… No fond farewell like Gallows & Anderson before them. I mean… a few months down the line KUSHIDA would get a main event against Okada as his farewell before he went to WWE. Weird…

In the days that followed, if it wasn’t already, everything became official. Kenny Omega revealed in an interview days after WK13 that he would indeed be leaving New Japan to be going (likely) to AEW or WWE. We also had the interesting news that New Japan were continuing their partnership with Ring Of Honor, and so wouldn’t (not immediately anyway) be partnering up with AEW. But New Japan went ahead with announcing shows for the American Airlines Center, a show in London, and plans for the next Wrestle Kingdom show to be a 2 night event.

At a later AEW press conference, in which they announced their first official show Double Or Nothing, the headline signing revealed was that of Jericho. He would later add that this contract with AEW was the ‘best deal of his career’, and (as with most AEW contracts) he would be allowed to work for New Japan again should the opportunity present itself. WWE were also in for him, but Jericho went with AEW… as did…

The headline act revealed at their February 7th press event was Kenny Omega. His New Japan deal expired at the end of January, and he too chose AEW over WWE. Omega would face Jericho at the first AEW event.

The general feel of what The Elite felt after their departure from NJPW can be seen via the ‘Being The Elite’ YouTube page, in their series ‘WRESTLERS ON THE ROAD ORDERING ROOM SERVICE’ on the episode that The Bucks did with Omega. This is some of what they said about firstly their feelings on the match Kenny had with Tanahashi, and then some more thoughts about them leaving New Japan.

NICK: Matt and I were like, this is a great much but, I don’t feel anything… I’m so over it’

MATT: I felt betrayed,… I found out we were getting kicked off New Year’s Dash

KENNY: At first, it was supposed to be a 50-50 story… people were supposed to be torn,… once they knew I was going they did whatever they could, a complete media blitz to make it look like I was this terrible person

NICK: Before that, we had a bad month, we had pretty much been kicked out of Ring Of Honor. Of course we were leaving, but it felt like we were physically kicked out.

MATT: We were all depressed, and it culminated that in the Tokyo Dome, I pull my phone out and start recording

They then show the video footage where The 3 guys compare them leaving New Japan to leaving your girlfriend, but you already have the side chick ready to go to. Omega added that it was like that and that maybe they could (in this scenario) learn to love the ‘side chick’. The side chick of course was AEW.

Nick and Kenny then confirm they had it written into their contracts (with AEW) that they would be able to go back and work for New Japan. Nick added that even after everything that had happened, they had meetings with ROH and New Japan about working together (and/or with AEW). He said that nothing happened after these meetings.

Kenny said he understood the business side of it (from New Japan’s POV), but that it was a bad call from them as the fans were the ones who lost out, adding also that he did take it personally. Omega went on to say that instead of making ‘the new version of me’ (New Japan pushed Jay White and gave him a lot what seemed to be the plan for Omega had he stayed) they should’ve just let everyone be themselves.

Given how things were between AEW and New Japan at the start, here I am in February 2022, and the two seem more than happy to work together. I’ve no doubt that once international travel is back to normal, we will see many AEW talents in Japan. But that hasn’t stopped those from New Japan being on AEW tv in various roles in 2021 & 2022… The likes of KENTA, Rocky Romero, Tomohiro Ishii and Jay White have been in angles and matches on AEW TV, and we’ve had the IWGP US title be defended a couple of times on AEW Dynamite… Who knows what that partnership will look like as it develops further over time…

New Japan, whilst not hitting their heights from a few years ago, have been fine in general, but as I said not as hot a product or close to the Elite days… And whilst AEW continues to go from strength to strength, we can only pray that the hopeful addition and crossover of New Japan & AEW makes an already tremendous professional wrestling company (in AEW) even hotter, and breathes life again into New Japan to once again make it, and professional wrestling as a whole, thrive.

To this day; Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks, Adam Page, haven’t been in a New Japan ring since. Nor has Cody… although, I don’t think that’ll be happening anytime soon…

(I have used my subscription to the F4W site and the Wrestling Observer to help back up and reinforce my points and research for this blog. If you’re a wrestling fan it’s an essential subscription in my opinion, so thanks to them).

Josh.

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