In 1992, New Japan Pro Wrestling hosted their first January 4th show in the Tokyo Dome. Ever since, it has built a reputation as being the most important annual event in the pro wrestling calendar. However, 2020 saw New Japan host back-to-back Dome shows, January 4th and 5th, for the first time in their history. This was replicated in 2021, but remains a change that divides opinion in the fanbase, with some wishing for a return to only January 4th, while others prefer the new double Dome status.
I’m going to go through the different arguments on either side, but first I want to make clear that I’m going to look at it from a purely wrestling viewpoint. However, if I was to look at the commercial aspects of the arguments, then the double Dome would be more favourable as two doses of ticket sales are better than one. Plus if it wasn’t financially beneficial to run two shows, NJPW just wouldn’t do it.
To raise the case for returning to a one day Wrestle Kingdom, you must look at the change in booking patterns leading into the Dome shows of these past two years. This year especially, the effect two nights of Wrestle Kingdom has had on booking the main event scene is clear for all to see.
Victorious in G1 Climax 30, Kota Ibushi was set to face Tetsuya Naito in one of the two Wrestle Kingdom main events (presumably January 4th). Jay White crushed this when he became the first wrestler to win the G1 Winners Briefcase after the tournament victory. However, this history-making moment was undermined by the fact that Ibushi still got his IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental title match at Wrestle Kingdom.
This set off alarm bells for some NJPW fans, as it wasn’t consistent with the logical, well-structured stories the promotion usually tells.
However, it could be seen in a positive light, as it led to two tremendous Wrestle Kingdom main events. January 4th saw Kota Ibushi vs Tetsuya Naito, with the following night hosting the ‘Golden Stars’ spectacular encounter with Jay White. This showed that despite possible issues with the booking beforehand, the end product could still be two incredible matches.
Another positive of double Tokyo Dome shows is that there are more spots on the card for the extensive roster of top-talent New Japan has at its disposal to feature on. Which is good in practice but, it allows for pointless matches such as the KOPW 4-way this year, and the multiple undercard matches the year before (which are great on a Road to show, but not on what should be the biggest and most prestigious event of the calendar) to find their way onto the card.
The likes of Tomohiro Ishii, Minoru Suzuki and Hirooki Goto weren’t given singles (or even tag) matches on this year’s event – instead being lumped in the frustratingly bad New Japan Rambo. This shows that despite more spots to fill, not everyone who deserves a high-profile spot is getting one.
Back-to-back Tokyo Dome shows do offer unique booking opportunities though, namely Tetsuya Naito reaching his “destino” at Wrestle Kingdom 14 and Kota Ibushi “becoming God” this year.
These two storylines are very persuasive when arguing for a two day Wrestle Kingdom as both these stories were incredibly gripping, with Tetsuya Naito’s drive to the Double Gold being one of the greatest long-term stories in New Japan history. After heartbreak at Wrestle Kingdom 12, Naito’s redemption arc set in motion. When he eventually achieved his “destino” two years later it was a very special moment, one that was amplified by the Double Gold Dash mini-tournament he had to win.
Naito played the role of having nothing to lose and everything to gain as he entered Wrestle Kingdom 14, winning the Intercontinental Championship by defeating Jay White on January 4th, before claiming the Heavyweight title the following night against Kazuchika Okada. This style of redemption wouldn’t have been possible if there was only one Tokyo Dome show.
One year on, Kota Ibushi played the starring role of the two Dome shows, reaching his goal of “becoming God” in the process. It was a triumphant occasion for the ‘Golden Star’, who is now only the third IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight double champion. The grandeur of Ibushi going through Naito, to then have to endure the man who defeated him three times in 2020, ‘Switchblade’ Jay White, heightened the drama. The mere 24-hour time period between Ibushi going to the limit with Naito and his grueling war with White made the entire story a more gripping and emotional one — a clear success of a two-night Wrestle Kingdom.
Both Naito’s and Ibushi’s triumphs strongly suggest that a two night Wrestle Kingdom creates special matches, stories and possibilities that a sole January 4th show couldn’t. Despite this, the jury is still out on whether a two-night Wrestle Kingdom trumps the traditional one-night event, but it will certainly be interesting to see what New Japan decides to do in the years to come.
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