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February 13, 2023

NJPW Battle in the Valley 2023 HOT TAKE

New Japan Pro Wrestling proudly boasts they are the King of Sports, and with great reason. For decades, NJPW has captivated fans across the globe with their hard-hitting patented style of combat sports action, bringing forth the most ferocious fighting spirit imaginable.

This Saturday on FITE will be no different when the top combatants from New Japan converge upon San Jose, CA for the first-ever Battle in the Valley. Emanating from the San Jose Civic, New Japan will once again present some of the most explosive, historic battles imaginable, shattering all expectations as their championship battles and colossal clashes once again set the stage for the ultimate in professional wrestling.

New Japan has always been the destination for fighters seeking to push themselves to perfection and perhaps the latest exclamation point to end that sentence is the arrival of Mercedes Moné, the competitor formerly known as Sasha Banks during her tenure in World Wrestling Entertainment. Arriving at Wrestle Kingdom 17 this past January at the Tokyo Dome, Moné made it clear that she had come to New Japan with aspirations of proving herself to be the best professional wrestler in the world, immediately targeting IWGP Women's Champion KAIRI.

This Saturday, Moné will enter a New Japan Pro Wrestling ring for the first time as a competitor, seeking to thrust away all that defined her past accolades while carving the first chapter of her future as a combat sports superstar. She has headlined Wrestlemania and has amassed one of the most impassioned fan bases ever seen for a professional wrestler, but this Saturday, live on FITE, she effectively hits the reset button and seeks to once again prove herself as one of the best in the world.

While Moné may be familiar with KAIRI from their time in WWE, she's never faced this KAIRI inside the ring. Since returning to Japan after her own excursion to World Wrestling Entertainment, KAIRI has become the definitive star in both New Japan and STARDOM, breaking ground as the first-ever IWGP Women's Champion. When Moné appeared at Wrestle Kingdom, she viciously attacked KAIRI, ensuring that their battle this Saturday will be anything but a friendly bout of competition. Indeed, it will be KAIRI seeking to avenge the humiliation she felt after Moné snatched her moment of triumph away at Wrestle Kingdom.

This battle is easily one of the most anticipated in recent New Japan history. How different and unique will Moné, who has been undergoing extensive training in both Japan and Mexico over the last six months, be in the ring? How can KAIRI train for a competitor who has sought to evolve herself under the cover of darkness? Will Moné be able to endure KAIRI's insanely devastating flying elbow drop? Will the CEO be able to bank her first championship win in her post-WWE era, or will the scales of justice tip in KAIRI's favor, returning the humiliation she felt in Japan to Moné, embarrassing her not just in the United States, but before FITE fans across the globe? The answers will be revealed this Saturday, February 18th!

Of course, fans in San Jose will be treated to a rematch of one of the all-time greatest New Japan Pro Wrestling rivalries of all time as the two men who were the foundation for NJPW's resurgence over the last decade will once again lock up with the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship on the line. After retaining his Championship at New Beginning in Osaka, Kazuchika Okada laid out a challenge, calling out one of his greatest ever foes, Hiroshi Tanahashi, to enter the squared circle in San Jose.

Since 2010, their rivalry has become one of the most storied series of battles in professional wrestling history, the Japanese equivalent of the classics created by Ricky Steamboat and Ric Flair. A battle between the two competitors who can truly boast they have been the "Ace" of New Japan, Tanahashi vs. Okada have clashed 14 times over the last thirteen years, including headlining the Tokyo Dome for the IWGP Heavyweight title in 2010, a clash that is still routinely cited as one of the all-time greatest NJPW main events, ever.

Tanahashi and Okada have been the definitive New Japan Pro Wrestling combatants, generational athletes who have risen in prominence thanks to their battles against each other, much like The Rock and Steve Austin here in the United States. When they enter the ring, it is a master class in chess as seen through the combat sports prism, two talents who hold doctorates in ring psychology clashing to prove, yet again, which of them is the greatest professional wrestler in New Japan history.

Adding a different dimension to this latest chapter is that for the first time ever, Tanahashi and Okada will battle one on one in the United States, bestowing the sold out audience in San Jose with a special piece of professional wrestling history they never could have predicted. The Rainmaker will battle The Ace of the Universe this Saturday, shattering all expectations for what a World Heavyweight Championship encounter can provide for combat sports fans - and the only place in the world to witness it live as it happens is FITE!

While NJPW's return to prominence in the United States is certainly a cause for celebration, if there is one competitor who's been lost in his own bitterness in recent days, it is Jay White. The leader of Bullet Club has found himself banned from Japan after losing a hard-fought battle with Hikuleo at New Beginning in Osaka. With White having been struck with the most embarrassing loss of his career, he's in the midst of trying to re-strategize his future while also seeking an unfortunate soul to take his anger out on.

Unfortunately for White, his opponent this Saturday at Battle in the Valley is AEW stalwart Eddie Kingston, who has never shied away from a fight. Yonker, NY's favorite son is a scrapper who loves to brawl and saw one of the most emotional wins of his career take place last year with a victory of Japanese legend Jun Akiyama. For Kingston, competing for New Japan is a dream come true as tapes of Japanese wrestling helped change his life, setting him on his path as a professional wrestler. Kingston is renowned for his short fuse and inability to suffer fools and to him, White is a braggart fool who needs to be taken down once and for all.

This Saturday, Jay White faces one of the most important moments of his career. Will he continue to careen downward after his shocking loss to Hikuleo, or will Eddie Kingston be the victim sacrificed on White's altar of pain? Then of course, there is the question that may be unthinkable to White as he heads to San Jose - if he loses another high profile encounter, what is next for Jay White as reality crashes in?

This Saturday on FITE may also be the biggest moment in the young career of "Rhino" Clark Connors, who has fought out of the New Japan Dojo in Los Angeles to build his reputation as one of the hungriest, versatile combat sports competitors over the last six years since initially training under WCW and WWE great Lance Storm. Connors has accepted the challenge of IWGP World Television Champion Zack Sabre Jr., seeking to score the biggest win of his career against one of the most adept in-ring technicians of this or any generation. ZSJ knows he is one of the best competitors in the world and one of the cockiest as well. He takes great glee in breaking down his opponents, seeking to use his encyclopedic knowledge of submissions, counters and strikes to wrack up yet another big victory. While ZSJ is ultra-confident in his abilities, he would be well served not to underestimate Connors, who has gained fans across the world with his fighting spirit and never say die attitude inside the ring. This Saturday on FITE, two careers clash and history will be made.

History will also be made when New Japan Strong Openweight Champion Fred Rosser, who has evolved into his ultimate form since arriving in NJPW, faces one of his most dangerous challengers to date this Saturday in KENTA. Since KENTA's return to New Japan Pro Wrestling, the master of the GTS has unleashed all the anger and resentment he felt during an underwhelming excursion to WWE, fury that is magnified exponentially when he returns to compete here in the United States. If Rosser can survive KENTA's onslaught of strikes and kicks to retain the championship, it will be, by far, his greatest New Japan accomplishment to date. But KENTA is a fierce soul, a shark always sensing blood in the water, who wants to demolish everyone in his path as KENTA continues to redeem himself in the darkest, most unholy ways possible.

The Motor City Machine Guns, Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin, return to New Japan Pro Wrestling this Saturday live on FITE, defending their NJPW Strong Openweight Tag Team Championship against The West Coast Wrestling Crew, Jorel Nelson and Royce Isaacs. A staple in New Japan Strong, The Crew have captured Tag Team Championship gold in Las Vegas' FSW and DEFY Wrestling in the Pacific Northwest but a victory over one of Impact Wrestling's definitive duos would send shockwaves across the pro wrestling cosmos. For Shelley and Sabin, this championship defense is a chance to carve another notch in their already impressive resume, but Issacs and Nelson have shown they will have taken zero prisoners inside the ring. This Saturday, someone will be wrecked - will it be the champions or the expectations of the challengers?

The Notorious 187, Homicide, is a grizzled veteran who has accomplished just about every dream he's ever had inside the pro wrestling ring. He has risen from the streets of Brooklyn, NY to become Ring of Honor World Champion and is now seen as one of the most influential competitors of the modern era. With a dream to walk the ramp at the Tokyo Dome still on his personal checklist, Homicide seeks to bring that reality even closer to fruit when he battles Filthy Tom Lawlor. The MMA star turned New Japan superstar will take on Homicide under "Filthy Rules" where there are no disqualifications and everything, no matter how lethal, is allowed in the heat of battle. Lawlor is seeking to take Homicide down once and for all, taking his Tokyo Dome dreams and turning them into a Filthy Nightmare.

Battle in the Valley this Saturday will kick off with an incredible eight man tag team bout as Impact Wrestling World Champion leads a team featuring luchador Mascara Dorada, the incomparable Rocky Romero and rising star Adrian Quest against KUSHIDA, The DKC, Kevin Knight and Volador Jr. With so much unbridled fighting spirit and pure athletic prowess inside the same ring, the San Jose Civic may explode from all the electricity crackling inside the squared circle!

New Japan Pro Wrestling is the professional wrestling promotion that all others are compared to, and with good reason. It has curated a roster of the best talent from across the globe and given them the platform to push themselves - physically, emotionally and spiritually, leaving everything they aspire to become as fighters and everything they dream to achieve inside the squared circle, creating indelible memories that will attain immortality, the grand fables that discerning professional wrestling fans pass on from one generation to another, forever.

This Saturday, live from San Jose, FITE proudly invites you to sit ringside as history is made at the first-ever New Japan Pro Wrestling Battle in the Valley!

Mike Johnson is the lead reporter for PWInsider.com and has been writing about professional wrestling since 1996. He can be found on Twitter @MikePWInsider and MikeJohnsonWrites.com.