Wrestle Kingdom 18 is getting closer and the entire pro wrestling world is preparing to kick off the next year with another huge event. In this article, I will explain why I consider that Tetsuya Naito & SANADA have earned their respective spots in the main event.
We are closing in to the end of another great year in the world of professional wrestling that delivered a lot of iconic moments and matches that will go down to the history books of our beloved sport.
Along with WWE’s WrestleMania 40 and AEW Revolution, NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 18 is definitely one of the most important and awaited events of 2024. The event, scheduled to take place on January 4th 2024, will be headlined by an IWGP World Title Match between defending champion SANADA and G1 CLIMAX winner Tetsuya Naito.
Even though the match is the featured bout of the night and promises to deliver in a big way, I could say that the impact and hype for the Okada vs. Danielson 2 and the 3-Way Match for the IWGP US/UK Heavyweight Title is way bigger than the one surrounding the SANADA vs. Naito clash.
However, I also do think that the storyline and psychology factors surrounding the match between the reigning IWGP World Heavyweight Champion and the G1 CLIMAX 33 winner is way deeper and has all the necessary elements to make a bigger impact than the previously mentioned matches.
To understand my point, we must first move backward to the times where SANADA was still a part of Los Ingobernables de Japon -the NJPW unit which Naito leads- and was also one of his most important and loyal comrades. A time where Naito was also obsessed with getting to the one place that he deserved to be on:
Tetsuya Naito & The Ultimate Quest To Main Event Wrestle Kingdom Once Again
There is no doubt that Los Ingorbernables de Japon is one of the most important and recognized factions not only in NJPW, but also in the entire pro wrestling world. And, along with that, his leader Tetsuya Naito is also one of the biggest stars to ever step foot in an NJPW ring.
A huge example of Naito’s success with the company is the fact that he became the first-ever Triple Crown Champion, becoming one of the most important and emblematic NJPW champions in the modern era.
Additionally, while being the IWGP Intercontinental Champion, Naito defeated Kazuchika Okada in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 14 (Night 2) to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, but ended up dropping both titles to Evil in July 2020.
Ever since that moment, Tetsuya Naito has been on a relentless quest to regain a spot on the main event of Wrestle Kingdom and fight for the top prize in NJPW once again.
During his quest, Naito had a lot of ups and downs and got the closest to his goal during last year’s G1 CLIMAX 32, where he lost to Will Ospreay in the semifinal bout and saw how his ultimate goal vanished before his very eyes.
Even though the defeat in the 2022 semifinals still haunted him, Naito got a chance at redemption when he defeated Ospreay in the same instance on this year’s G1 CLIMAX 33 and moved on to claim the victory over Kazuchika Okada in an instant-classic final bout.
So, with all of this being said, there is no doubt that this upcoming match with SANADA could very well be a big, if not the biggest opportunity for Naito to fulfill his ultimate goal and become IWGP World Heavyweight Champion once again.
SANADA & The Opportunity To Prove Everyone That He Has All That It Takes To Be A Superstar
Just like Naito, SANADA also has a lot of pressure heading into the match.
Undoubtedly, SANADA has made a huge impact throughout this year and finally solidified his status as one of the top stars in all of NJPW, while also winning the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship and reaching the top of the mountain for the first time in his career.
Ever since the moment he decided to leave LIJ to join Just 4 Guys, while also rebranding his character, we knew that sky was the limit for this new version of SANADA.
However, many people still considers that the reigning IWGP World Champion doesn’t have what it takes to be a superstar in the company. So, the imminent collision course with the leader of his former faction could very well put SANADA in front of another, if not the biggest opportunity to silence all doubters.
It is no secret that for many years SANADA was perhaps seen as a secondary character within LIJ, or at least with not enough superstar potential compared to fellow members Tetsuya Naito or Shingo Takagi.
I often tend to compare him with the case of Jey Uso in WWE, a very talented performer who for many years was seen as a tag team wrestler, that put on solid performances and gradually started to achieve singles milestones, while also changing the direction of his character to show everyone that he has what it takes to be one of the company’s top stars.
If we look at it that way, my point is starting to make sense: In order to reach even bigger heights and show everyone that he was always up for major singles milestones, SANADA must overcome his former partner and leader of LIJ in the biggest NJPW event of the year.
I have been a pro wrestling fan since a very young age, and I will forever be grateful to the sport for not only giving me something to enjoy or be passionate about, but also for giving me a dream and a purpose in life.
Just like pro wrestling, the Japanese culture is also something that I became really attracted to ever since I was kid. And when my appreciation for this culture overlapped with wrestling, I discovered some of the most interesting promotions (such as NJPW, NOAH, DDT, STARDOM and TJPW to name a few) and became completely supportive of its products.
Additionally, stories like SANADA’s and the way that his journey has now overlapped with Naito’s quest is one of the things that I like the most about NJPW. And just like this story, we also have many more similar or even deeper psychologies in other iconic rivalries such as the emblematic Kenny Omega vs. Will Ospreay.
Even though I am still not sure on whose side I’m on for this match, the only fact that is undeniable is that both Tetsuya Naito & SANADA have earned their spots in the biggest stage and will deliver a huge match that will keep all of the fans on the edge of their seats, one that will not disappoint and that will boost NJPW into bigger success in this new chapter of its story.
With nothing else to add, thank you for reading this piece and stay tuned to Wrestling Republic for more contents like this.