WWE Raw preview (Jan. 31, 201: Auld acquaintance WWE.com Raw returns to Detroit, or at least they did last Friday so they could tape the action we’ll see tonight on USA Network. In fact, you can find out what they taped by clicking here- but where’s the fun in that? The Headliner(s) She beat Nia Jax. Again, really, since we all know she was going to beat her at Money In The Bank before Alexa Bliss got involved. In between Jax matches, she beat Bliss. We don’t know what the future holds for the Goddess, but even if she’s cleared to return and despite her resume, she’s not a particularly compelling match-up for the current Raw Women’s champion. The matches we really want to see Ronda Rousey have don’t appear to be in the cards until the spring. So with Charlotte Flair & Becky Lynch probably not options for a month or so, and certainly not for tonight’s show... what’s the Baddest Woman on the Planet to do? We can think of a couple options. [Author’s note: I really try not to do too much fantasy booking. I’m a firm believer in not telling anyone how to do their job, I enjoy seeing what creative professionals come up with on their own & find my experience as a viewer is better when I don’t get too attached to my own ideas. But, to paraphrase Jimmy Jacobs, writing previews for pre-taped holiday episodes is f***ing hard.] 1. There’s some new tag belts coming down the chimney, courtesy of old McMahon-ty Claus, right? Ronda has a couple good friends - one she submitted then hugged it out with just last week, another holding gold down in NXT (a brand which was at one point rumored to be in the women’s tag team championship mix). She doesn’t need to add being the first to hold those to her historic list of accomplishments. And while a horrible, mean-spirited part of my black soul would like that just to watch Boss ‘n’ Hug Connection stans have meltdowns, I don’t think it would happen. It would give Rousey and either Natalya or Shayna Baszler something to do for a few weeks, the team could lose & exit the field without Rowdy taking a pin and it could set up another program for her like... 2. Give me a Ronda vs. Ruby Riott match or I’ll riot! Possibly even with two ‘t’s! Seriously, there’s history here from Super Show-Down to Tribute To The Troops, and Ruby delivered a compelling match at Fastlane earlier this year when she faced Charlotte Flair. I don’t want her to be pigeon holed as a “filler challenger”, but being trusted to work good, safe, exciting matches with top stars isn’t a bad role to own. Riott can interfere in a Rousey & Natty or Shayna match that allows her beloved teammates Sarah Logan & Liv Morgan to move closer to winning tag gold, piss off Ronda and... voila! The champ has a program that will get her through to WrestleMania season that won’t involve watching general fan apathy toward Nia cause her to lose that momentarily nuclear #Facebreaker heat! Book it! Or something else that will genuinely feel free and exciting while we wait for Rousey’s program with two of SmackDown’s top stars to start. The title scene Universal titleholder Brock Lesnar isn’t due back for a couple weeks, and his Royal Rumblechallenger Braun Strowman was just here last Monday. So don’t expect much advancement in their feud. It’s possible Paul Heyman could show up to sing an “Auld Lang Syne” parody and the Monster Among Men could appear to dress him like baby new year. But let’s hope not. WWE.com’s official preview for this episode reminds us that Shane McMahon said the automatic championship rematch is no more, so Seth Rollins is S.O.L. for the easy path at revenge against Intercontinental champ Dean Ambrose. Something tells me he’ll still find a way to get back at his former Shield brother, though. Normally, we’d guess their loss on last week’s pre-taped holiday show would mean Top Guys out. But we’ve got another pre-taped holiday show this week, and Tag Team champions Chad Gable & Bobby Roode’s win over The Revival last week is tainted by the fact they didn’t pin the legal man. Resolve to give us more of Dash & Dawson as something other than jobbers in 2019 please. Other stuff to keep an eye on - Former tag champs Dolph Ziggler & Drew McIntyre will settle their differences in a steel cage tonight. Hopefully it will go on last and end the streak of Baron Corbin main events. We’re pulling for Drew, but rumor is it isn’t his month to be pushed, so expect a run-in from the guy who has one more day left on his, Finn Bálor. We all know those cages don’t keep anybody out. - The Scottish Psychopath does have the Rumble match to look forward to on Jan. 27, though. Who will join McIntyre & R-Truth in the over-top-rope battle royal for a ‘Mania title shot? Will any ladies give Carmella some company? - Elias is basically the Raw singles version of The New Day now, minus the history-making title reign. He’ll be singing us a New Year’s tune tonight (phew, another good sign that Brock’s advocate won’t) and then probably shooting Jinder Mahal with a confetti gun or something wacky like that. Four weeks until Royal Rumble! What will you be looking for on Raw tonight? Guide to NJPW's WrestleKingdom 13 With the final show of the year having just finished as I start to write this, I wasn't going to write a guide this year since it feels like there are fewer people on this board than ever who need the introduction compared to the past couple of years. But, I'm now extremely excited for the show so here's an excuse for me to express that and hopefully some first time or newer viewers of the product get something out of it. What is WrestleKingdom 13? The new year is a massively big deal in Japan, while they don't celebrate Christmas as officially people will spend the first week of the new year with family and it's the one time of year it's common for everyone to take lots of time off. This being the case, the first week of the new year and more specifically January 4th became an annual tradition for NJPW. People would take their day off and go see the massively popular stars of the 90s. This tradition has persisted for almost 30 years. While its cultural significance has died down with the fall of wrestling in the 2000s, it still holds it spot as the Wrestlemania of Japanese wrestling. Who will be there? The easiest way to approach this is to break it down with NJPW's Faction based system. The roster currently being split into 6 groups, though massive changes seem on the horizon. (Note: This isn't the entire roster, just everyone on the main card and a couple of notable people likely to be on the pre show match) Sekigun (Main Unit) The home army of NJPW, these wrestlers are the defenders of the company and often the heart of the company. Hiroshi Tanahashi - The Ace of NJPW. During the dark days of the late 2000s where bad booking and international economic turmoil saw NJPW's popularity plummet, it was Tanahashi who pulled the company up and led it into what has become in the modern era. Main-eventing countless January 4th shows. Despite now being on the wrong side of 40, Tanahashi is still wildly popular, even winning the MVP fan vote this year. He finds himself as the challenger for the IWGP title at the dome for what could be the final time. KUSHIDA - A lover of Back to the future, KUSHIDA's dynamic in-ring style that fuses high flying, technical wrestling and strong style has seen him become the Ace of the Jr division for the past 4 years. He goes into the dome as Junior champion looking to protect his division from the Bullet Club's dangerous Bone Soldier Taiji Ishimori. Juice Robinson - NJPW's lovable underdog babyface maybe best known to some as NXT's CJ Parker. Since joining NJPW at the company's bottom rung, Juice has slowly climbed the ranks, culminating in a short lived IWGP US title reign in the summer. At the dome he hopes to reclaim the US title which he lost to Cody. The Elite I'm sure the most well known of the bunch by those unfamiliar with NJPW, the former Bullet Club members have become wildly popular thanks to their great in ring talent and hit Youtube show "Being the Elite" Kenny Omega - The reigning IWGP heavyweight Champion, Kenny Omega is best described by his moniker "The Best Bout Machine." His high octane, high impact style has seen him gain high praise from across the wrestling world. He claims he wants to change the wrestling world, whether or not that's for the better we will see with time but there's no doubting he's made a massive impact. Kota Ibushi - Perhaps the most naturally gifted wrestler in Japan, maybe even the world. This talent and natural charisma has seen him become one of the most popular wrestlers in Japan today. While his enigmatic behaviour has seen him never sign a full time contract (and likely prevented him from ever being IWGP champion), he currently holds the NEVER Openweight title and is on a collision course with the UK's Will Ospreay. These two men are also a team called the Golden Lovers, I could never do their story justice so here's an amazing video from Showbuckle that does - The Young Bucks - A currently controversial tag team, there's no doubting the talent Matt and Nick possess. Innovators both in and out of the ring, they are the minds behind the Being the Elite web show and the best marketers in the Elite. While also being a highly innovative team in the ring in their own right. They look to reclaim the IWGP tag titles from former Allies Guerillas of Destiny. Cody - Former WWE wrestler, Cody Rhodes, I'm sure is no stranger to anyone reading this. Being perhaps the most successful WWE trained wrestler to make the transition to the independents. Cody is the current IWGP US champion after beating his upcoming challenger Juice Robinson for the gold. A slightly crazy heel, he's a rare NJPW star to really prioritise his overt character work over in ring excellence. 'Hangman' Page - While not on the main card I find it fitting to mention Hangman in this guide. This time last year he was similarly not on the main show and as such I left him off the guide finding him unnoteworthy based on his work in 2017. However, 2018 has been a phenomenal year for 'Hangman'. A highly impressive G1 climax performance has seen him rapidly become one of the more popular members of the Elite in Japan. And if not for someone we'll get to later would easily be the most improved in 2018. CHAOS CHAOS is in a weird state right now, while over the past few years it has been the most dominant faction thanks to its leader and ace of the new generation, Kazuchika Okada. Recent betrayals and turmoils has seen it move ever closer to the Sekigun and could soon become a non-factor. Kazuchika Okada - The man who over 4 grueling years, took the torch of Ace and company leader from Hiroshi Tanahashi. Kazuchika Okada is dealing with fallout of his historic 2 year long IWGP title reign coming to an end. With Dome opponent and rising star Jay White targeting the wounded Rainmaker and even being betrayed by his mentor of 6 years Gedo, Okada is trying to rebuild and redeem himself to hopefully get back to the top of the company. Will Ospreay - If Kota Ibushi is the most naturally gifted wrestler in Japan, Will Ospreay is that for the UK, if not the rest of the world. With unbelievable athletic ability, Will Ospreay has slowly moulded into one of the world's elite. With his 2018 being unmatched by all but handful of performers. Now at the Dome he looks to take the step from Junior to Heavyweight and claim the NEVER openweight title. Tomohiro Ishii - The Stone Pitbull, is just that. A vicious and brutal, no nonsense fighter who never backs down from a challenge. He currently holds Revolution Pro Wrestling's British Heavyweight title after being dominant in the promotion all year. Roppongi 3k - Breaking onto the scene after returning from excursion in late 2017, Sho and Yoh, have sat under the learning tree of Rocky Romero and becoming a key part of the Junior Tag division. Ultimately winning the Jr tag league in November to get their title shot at the dome. Hirooki Goto - While not on the main show, his absence is probably the most notable. Since his return from excursion in 2008, Goto has been a relatively key player in NJPW’s upper midcard. Seeing him be consistently in high profile matches at NJPW’s biggest show. Just last year he was 5th from the top in a big singles title match vs Minoru Suzuki. So, to see him stuck on pre show duty could be a key character note for him in 2019. Best Friends - The tag team of Beretta and Chuckie T are also not on the main card, in fact teaming with Hirooki Goto in the pre show match. What makes them noteworthy is a story coming out of the tag league tour. Chuckie T has sort of been going crazy, getting his team disqualified on multiple occasions due to viciously assaulting his opponents with a chair. This will be something to pay attention to if watching the pre show. Los Ingobernables de Japon Formed in 2015 when their charismatic leader, Tetsuya Naito, returned from a tour in Mexico where he joined the original Los Ingobernables. They have quickly become the most popular faction in the company. With a unique feel to the faction and an undeniable cool factor, all of the members pop off the page. Tetsuya Naito - LIJ’s leader and ace, this time last year he looked set to topple Kazuchika Okada to complete a multiple year long redemption arc but ultimately fell short of the mark. In 2018 he stalled a bit and now finds himself on a collision course with Chris Jericho who beat him back in June. Despite an underwhelming year his charisma and in ring ability has allowed him to remain the most popular man in the company. The aforementioned Showbuckle also did a wonderful video describing his arc - EVIL & SANADA - Two of the fastest rising stars in modern NJPW, EVIL & SANADA spend most of their time chasing singles glory, though they often come together as a team towards the end of the year. SANADA is super athletic while EVIL is a brutal bruiser. This sugar and spice dynamic means that when they do come together, they are one of the most fun teams in NJPW. They recently won the World Tag League tournament and will be a part of the Heavyweight Tag title match at the dome. BUSHI & Shingo Takagi - With injury to Hiromu Takahashi, BUSHI needed a new tag partner for the Jr tag team tournament, enter former Dragongate star Shingo Takagi. BUSHI has been a solid hand for both LIJ and NJPW’s junior division since his arrival. Meanwhile the introduction of Shingo has breathed new life into NJPW’s Jr tag division, with a feud already brewing between him and Roppongi 3k’s Sho. The pair will also challenge for the Jr Tag titles at the dome, having beaten the champions in the Jr tag league. Bullet Club One of the most recognisable names in wrestling, Bullet Club has undergone major changes in recent months, heading back to its roots under the leadership of “Switchblade” Jay White. Jay White - The fastest rising star in NJPW, Jay White returned from excursion just a year ago, having his first high profile match at last year’s dome show. Initially joining CHAOS, Jay White broke free and took the reigns of Bullet Club with help of the disgruntled Tongans. His sublime character work makes him the most hated man in the company. But his impact is still respected, being 5th in NJPW’s fan voted MVP awards. Gedo - While not in a match, he plays a massive role in the feud of Jay White and Okada. For 6 years, he was the mentor of Kazuchika Okada, taking him to the top of the sport and a dominant title reign. However Gedo has now abandoned Okada, in favour of the younger Jay White, who he hopes to mentor to even greater success. Taiji Ishimori - Taking the BONE SOLDIER moniker, Ishimori debuted in NJPW earlier this year, with a strong showing in the Best of the Super Juniors tournament. Since then he remained a constant presence in the junior division and even picking up 6-man gold with stablemates Guerillas of Destiny, a title he currently holds. At the dome he challenges for the Junior title, hoping to get his first singles gold in NJPW. Guerrillas of Destiny - Sons of Haku, Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa, this hard hitting duo have been stalwart’s of the Heavyweight tag division for multiple years, holding both the heavyweight Tag Titles and 6-man titles. They’ve been key players in the Bullet Club changes this year and look to continue their renewed dominance at the dome. Suzuki-Gun Under the leadership of sadistic veteran Minoru Suzuki, Suzuki-Gun are the most treacherous faction in NJPW. Where Bullet Club is home for evil foreigners, Suzuki-Gun is generally home to the vicious Japanese wrestlers and give off a Yakuza vibe. Minoru Suzuki - At 50 years old, Suzuki is the leader of the group and remains a terrifying opponent. Alongside Goto he is the biggest omission from the main card, spending most of the first half of the year around the Intercontinental title picture. Zack Sabre Jr. - A well known commodity in both the European and American indie scene, Zack has had a real break out year in 2018. Beating 3 of NJPW’s big 4, winning the New Japan Cup and having a very strong G1 Climax. On top of this his British brand of humour and sarcasm makes him one of the most entertaining promos in the company. At the dome he tries to win back Revolution Pro Wrestling’s British Heavyweight title from Ishii. Yoshinobu Kanemaru and El Desperado - This Jr tag pair have quietly become one of the most dominant IWGP junior tag champions in recent history, hitting 300 days by the time Wrestle Kingdom rolls around. This will make them the second longest reigning Jr Tag holders in history behind only the 99/00 reign of Otani and Takaiwa. Taichi - Not on the card at all, he’s the lord or something idk. Ask u/Ezzanine Others There are a couple other things to mention outside of faction lines. Chris Jericho - I’m sure if this is your first time you’ll be watching NJPW, you’ll probably be watching because of this man so he needs little introduction. But to note in NJPW, he currently holds the number two belt in the company and fulfills a Brock Lesnar like position. Most Violent Players - The team of Toru Yano and Togi Makabe, the former a member of CHAOS and the latter a member of Sekigun (Or well technically one of two members in another faction but for practicality Sekigun). When Chaos was formed 10 years ago, it was formed by a betrayal of Makabe’s partner at the time Toru Yano and the rest of the Great Bash Heel faction choosing Shinsuke Nakamura over Makabe. However amidst the chaos caused by Bullet Club, Makabe saved Toru Yano seemingly reforming the team. The two are teaming with Ryusuke Taguchi on the Pre show. What will happen? And why? 0: Trios Gauntlet Match - With all 3 members of the 6-man champions busy in other title matches, this pre-show match is to determine who will challenge them the day after Wrestlekingdom for the titles. Taking the place of the “New Japan Rumble” match of prior years, expect lots of comedy and maybe surprising cameos from legends, with a surprisingly good final stretch. 1: Never Openweight Title - Kota Ibushi(c) vs. Will Ospreay - The term “Dream Match” is thrown about too much these days, often about any match people think would be kinda cool that hasn’t happened before, sometimes it’s even already happened. But this match is a real dream match. These two men are the two most naturally athletically gifted men in NJPW, if not all of wrestling, being massive innovators in their countries of origin. Will Ospreay has been a Junior in NJPW since his arrival in 2016, while Ibushi has never quite become a top top star due to his refusal to sign a full time contract. This situation allows Ospreay to step up to the heavyweight world against the most naturally talented guy in the world. If given any semblance of time this match will set a very high bar for the rest of the show to follow. 2: Three-Way Tag Team match for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles - Suzuki-gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru and El Desperado) (c) vs. Roppongi 3K (Sho and Yoh) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon(Bushi and Shingo Takagi) - The Suzuki-Gun side have quietly been one of the most dominant Junior Tag team champions in history this year, mostly at the expense of Roppongi 3k and the LIJ team of BUSHI and the now injured Hiromu Takahashi. At the Super Jr Tag League, all 3 teams would make the finals with Roppongi 3k finally pinning the champions. Meanwhile, because they weren’t beaten and they beat the champions in the group phase, BUSHI and Shingo also did enough to earn a title shot. So all 3 teams meet once more at the dome, this time for the gold. 3: British Heavyweight Title Match - Tomohiro Ishii(c) vs. Zack Sabre Jr. - Over in the UK, Tomohiro Ishii has become a fan favourite of the RevPro fans, culminating in him ending a near 400 day long Zack Sabre Jr. title reign. Throughout the year Ishii has feuded with ZSJ’s new mentor Minoru Suzuki for the title, with the 2 trading it back and forth. Zack is now looking to reclaim his title and re-establish himself as Britain’s top dog. 4: Three-way tag team match for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles - Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa) (c) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Sanada and Evil) vs. The Young Bucks(Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson) - At the world Tag league, LIJ’s EVIL & SANADA, beat the tag champs GoD in the final for the second straight year to claim a shot at the tag team gold. While The Young Bucks, who did not compete in tag league, are in this match because they’re The Young Bucks. Honestly I can’t explain this unfortunately, some would say it’s due to a rematch clause but they’re not really a thing in NJPW. The match should be fun though. 5: IWGP United States Title - Cody(c) vs. Juice Robinson - Back in July, the ever lovable underdog Juice Robinson, produced one of the feel good moments of the year, when he beat Jay White and finally claimed his first piece of silverware in NJPW. However due to an injured hand sustained in the build up to that match, Juice would do poorly in the G1, going just 3-6. And as soon as he won the title, he lost it to Cody on NJPW’s next show in America. After a strong showing in the undercard since then and a notable pinfall over the Elite’s Hangman Page in World Tag League, Juice is looking to reclaim his title from Cody at the dome. Also to note, 2 years ago when Cody debuted at WK11 it was Juice who was sent out to comfortably lose to Cody. So, should Juice win, it will be a real signifier of all the progress he has made. 6: IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title - KUSHIDA(c) vs. Taiji Ishimori - In June, one of the Junior Division’s most popular stars, LIJ’s Hiromu Takahashi, started his 2nd run with the title, really looking set to finally become the new Junior Ace. However, a freak accident later and Hiromu was forced to vacate the title. The ever present Junior Ace KUSHIDA would beat Marty Scurll in the final of a 4 man tournament to once again find himself on top of the division. Ishimori meanwhile has been quietly building momentum, include picking up multiple pinfalls on KUSHIDA during the Tag league tour. This match will lightning quick and potentially MOTN so keep an eye on it. 7: Special Singles Match - Kazuchika Okada vs. Jay White - At the start of the year, wrestling fans were puzzled by the clearly mischievous and villainous Jay White joining CHAOS and not a more traditionally villainous faction such as Bullet Club, Suzuki-Gun or even LIJ. Okada had clearly identified him as a future big player and wanted him on his side to keep an eye on him. Okada was in the final stretch of his 2 year title reign and when it finally came to an end, it put him in a bit of a funk. Meanwhile, Jay White would be building steam with a solid US title reign, which was kickstarted by him beating Kenny Omega. At the G1 Jay White would pin Okada and even beat eventual winner Tanahashi too. But his cheating manner caused friction with him and the rest of CHAOS. In September, Okada would answer the challenge of long time rival Tanahashi for the IWGP #1 contendership. After suffering a defeat, Jay White would pick his spot to not just attack Tanahashi but also Okada. Then Okada’s mentor of 6 years Gedo would stab him in the back (or I guess chairshot him in the back) and align with Jay White. Since then Jay White and Gedo recruited the disgruntled non-Elite members of the Bullet Club to become their new leader. Over the fall Jay White has repeatedly one upped Okada, as tension continues to build. Jay White’s focusing of both Tanahashi and Okada has also caused a slow merging of their two factions to happen, is everyone ok with that? Also Jay White has said he has a mole in CHAOS, how will that play in? Or is it just mind games? 8: IWGP Intercontinental Title - Chris Jericho(c) vs. Tetsuya Naito - On the day after Wrestlekingdom 12, Chris Jericho attacked Tetsuya Naito making a big statement to the man who had just fallen short of the big title. Jericho would not be seen for months after, while Naito would rap up a feud with Minoru Suzuki and win the Intercontinental title. When suddenly a fan dressed as BUSHI attacked Naito, it was none other than Chris Jericho. In June, Jericho would shock everyone and beat Naito for the belt. Naito’s stable mate EVIL, would then spend the summer wanting a match with Jericho. When EVIL was coming out for a match with ZSJ in October, one of the druids in EVIL’s entrance posse would attack him and you guessed it, it was Jericho again. In November EVIL would face Jericho and ultimately fall short. After an attempted post match beatdown, Naito makes the save and demands a rematch, which was ultimately made for the dome. On the final show of the year, LIJ would successfully win a multi man tag, when out of nowhere Chris Jericho attacked Naito from behind and you guessed it, it was Chris Jericho the whole time. 9: IWGP Heavyweight Title - Kenny Omega(c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi - The first half of this year was rough for Tanahashi, he got the piss beat out of him by Suzuki, got tapped out by ZSJ in the final of the New Japan Cup and then lost a title match vs Okada, which meant Okada surpassed his record of 10 IWGP title defences in a single reign. In fact at the big June PPV he was 4th from the top in an ultimately meaningless 6-man tag (though it did feature Rey Mysterio) which his team lost. But when the G1 came around everything started to click, he was tapping into the Ace of old and just kept winning, ultimately going to a time limit draw with the man who surpassed him in the record books, Okada, which saw him beat his rival into the final by 2 points. Then he would beat, Kota Ibushi in the final and prove he really was back to his old self. Once again the winner of the G1 for the first time since 2015. Then after beating his rival Okada and the young hotshot Jay White, he is set for one more Dome Main Event. Meanwhile, Kenny Omega has been Changing the World™, At the June PPV where Tanahashi was unimportant, Kenny Omega was the man to finally dethrone Okada, beating him 2 falls out of 3 in a match that went over an hour, he was on top the world. Then in September he beat continued rival Tomohiro Ishii and then caused a big stir in October when he defended the title in a 3 way match against stablemates Cody and Kota Ibushi. The first time the title had been defended in a multi-man match in well over a decade. Now with them on a collision course, it’s a battle of the Old vs the New, and about who is the better professional wrestler (both in and out of kayfabe it’s weird). What should bring them into the next era of NJPW, The style of Tanahashi that bought them into the current golden era, or the new style of the current champion Kenny Omega. When and Where can I watch it? The show takes place January 4th at 5pm JST (Pre show will be about an hour earlier than this) or 9am CEST, 8am GMT, 3am EST and 12am PST. The show will be streamed lived at www.NJPWWorld.com with the choice of Japanese and English commentary. The service costs 999 Yen/month which is about $10 or £8. Note: njpwworld bills on the 1st of the month whenever you sign up initially, so wait for Jan 1st and sign up then.