Wrestle Kingdom 11 is finally here and with it comes a new fresh wave of potential Match of the Year candidates right off the bat in the first week of January. New Japan always starts off the year with a bang and this year was no exception, garnering four matches that could easily be included on any “Best of” list come next December. A fun show to watch from top to bottom, Wrestle Kingdom usually sets the tone for the rest of the year, and if this show was any indication, we may be in for the best year of wrestling in history.
NJPW Rumble – 25:13
The pre-show began with the NJPW Rumble, a relatively new addition to the Wrestle Kingdom show. This year is the third Rumble and is a New Japan style Royal Rumble with pinfalls, submissions and disqualifications all counting until only one man remains. The rumble started with the returning Michael Elgin facing Billy Gunn, which is a statement I doubt any of us believed we’d make in 2017. The main story of the Rumble was the return of the nWo Japan, represented here by Scott Norton, Hiro Saito and Tenzan, who also took crowd favorite Cheeseburger into the fold. There was a lot of fun to be had here – let us never stop being amused by the friendship of Jushin Liger and Cheeseburger. In the end, Michael Elgin was victorious with the Elgin Bomb on Cheeseburger.
Tiger Mask W defeated Tiger the Dark – 6:34
Wrestle Kingdom officially kicked off with Tiger Mask W vs Tiger the Dark. This match was a tie in with an anime about Tiger Mask that New Japan is promoting. For those unaware, two wrestling favourites portray the respective Tiger Masks for this bout, Kota Ibushi playing the role of Tiger Mask W and ACH as Tiger the Dark. This was a short match that helped to get the crowd ready for the evening, utilising the usual movesets of both men. Tiger Mask W picked up the victory here with a Last Ride Tiger Driver.
Roppongi Vice (Beretta and Rocky Romero) defeated The Young Bucks – 12:57
Bucking the trend of past Wrestle Kingdom shows, this year’s IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team title match consisted of only two teams. The Bucks entered the ring adorned with every title they current hold; the IWGP Jr Tag titles, Ring of Honor tag titles, PWG tag team titles and their own “Superkick Championship belts.” Shoutouts were an early theme to this match as the Bucks made sure to say hello to The Hardys as they made their entrance, and Trent did the same for Dustin (Chuck Taylor). The match was comprised of many ridiculous spots, but worked well for a nice sprint and the teams have great chemistry. Trent took a nasty dive onto the floor at one point, which led to Romero vs the Bucks in a 2 on 1 situation up until the conclusion of the match. Roppongi Vice ended up being victorious as the Bucks went to deliver More Bang for Your Buck only to be held back by Trent, and allowing Rocky to come in with a quick rollup. If anything, this match displayed how criminally underrated Rocky Romero is as an all-around performer. He’s great in the ring and has the charisma of ten men, and with this win, is now the winningest JR Tag Team Champion in the history of New Japan.
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Bushi, Evil and Sanada) defeated David Finlay, Ricochet and Satoshi Kojima (c), Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page and Yujiro Takahashi) and Chaos (Jado, Will Ospreay and Yoshi-Hashi) – 16:06
The surprise going into this gauntlet match was the order of team entrances, as many expected Will Ospreay and Ricochet to have a moment after their sting of singles matches over the past year. However the two never touched in this bout, as CHAOS started off the match against the Bullet Club. Ospreay was the stand out here but Yujiro got the pin over Jado, sending CHAOS packing and Los Ingobernables de Japon to the ring. LOS made quick work of Bullet Club with Sanada locking in Cold Skull on Yujiro to advance and face the champions. This matchup was the best part of the gauntlet with equal time given to both sides in order to get in all of their spots and move the match along. Kojima was eventually pinned to crown Los Ingobernables as the new NEVER Openweight 6-Man Championship holders.
Cody defeats Juice Robinson – 9:37
There was a lot of buzz going into this match as it was Cody’s NJPW debut on their biggest stage. Cody approached this match seemingly fully in the role of Bullet Club member, from the leather jacket and sunglasses all the way down to the cocky, sneering demeanor. The real story of this match however is Juice Robinson and his growth in New Japan since his debut. While Cody was fine here, typical to most of his matches post WWE career, and had an okay debut, Juice Robinson shined. He had the support of the crowd, his wrestling has come far since he first started in Young Lions matches and his selling has greatly improved as well. The real takeaway here should be less concentrated on Cody’s debut and more toward the improvements Juice Robinson has made in order to make himself a real threat on the New Japan roster.
Adam Cole defeated Kyle O’Reilly – 10:41
Rumours surrounded the men participating in this match, as predictions speculated the loser may be WWE bound, but no one knows the truth just yet. What we do know is that the conclusion of this match resulted in Adam Cole becoming the first three-time Ring of Honor World Champion and solidifying himself in the history books, while giving Kyle O’Reilly the title of shortest Ring of Honor Champion ever with no successful defenses. This match was solid, but considering the pair’s lengthy history, they’ve had more interesting matches in the past.
Chaos (Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano) defeated Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Roa) (c) and G.B.H. (Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma) – 12:34
The IWGP Tag Team Championship has bounced back and forth man times over the past year, and does so again with Chaos picking up the win over the previous champions. Toru Yano was a standout as always if only for his sneaky tactics that allowed for the pinfall victory. This was a typical contest between the teams, amusing at points with some nice back and forth between G.O.D and G.B.H, Honma playing the role of underdog and Tama Loa playing the role of “dude who can’t stop swearing.” Nothing too memorable here, but a fine match.
Hiromu Takahashi defeated Kushida (c) – 16:15
This is when the show really starts to ramp up. These last four matches of Wrestle Kingdom is some of the overall best wrestling you can find, starting with Kushida vs Hiromu Takahashi. From the beginning, it was obvious this match was going slightly off the rails as some spots failed to connect fully, resulting in what looked like near injuries. Both men pressed on and the matched picked up pace, Kushida fighting every step of the way with Hiromu finding just enough to slip out of Kushida’s hoverboard lock. Kushida brought out some of his best work from previous matches, looking seemingly frustrated at his inability to put Hiromu away for good. Hiromu was finally able to hit the Time Bomb on Kushida to become the new IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion. These two are not only two of the most charismatic men in New Japan, they have excellent chemistry together. A rematch will no doubt be a must see. This match was far and beyond the match of the night up until this point.
Hirooki Goto defeated Katsuyori Shibata (c) – 16:17
Perhaps the big sleeper match on the card, Shibata vs Goto delivered in a way I was not expecting. The two always have great matches against one another, but this was by far their best. This match had everything one could love about their previous contentions. It was stiff, violent, and between two men who did not want to give an inch to the other. Taunts for the other to hit them harder strengthened an already intense match, and the final stretch of this match was beautifully done. Goto redeemed himself here after a year of ups and downs, and this match is a great example as to how two men with so much history can continue to one up their previous matches.
Tetsuya Naito (c) defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi – 25:25
Hiroshi Tanahashi has has a multitude of brilliant matches over his career, but this is easily my favourite match of his. Although the match was brilliant as a stand-alone, knowing the history between these two men adds so much depth to this match. The limb work in this match is wonderful and is a direct call back to their previous contests, most notably their 2013 G1 Final match. It’s a brilliant combination of little things that makes everything work perfectly. The timing on this matched worked wonders in building up the tension as there were several finisher reversals and split second kickouts. For the first time over the course of the evening, the champion was able to retain his title as Naito hit the Destino on Tanahashi.
Kazuchika Okada defeated Kenny Omega– 46:45
There’s really nothing to be said about this match that hasn’t already been stated. By now it’s hit the internet that Dave Meltzer gave this match six stars, which is mindblowing. Whether you agree or disagree with Dave’s rating, this was a match that needs to be seen by all. Anyone who questions whether Omega is deserving of the top spot would change their tune seeing the incredible performance he puts on throughout this match. Starting with his Terminator entrance all the way to his insane bumps, Kenny Omega put everything he had into this match, and we see a more serious and focused Omega here. Though his Elite partners, The Young Bucks, remained ringside for the entirety of the match, no interference took place, which likely would have taken away from the flow of this amazing contest. Okada put on one of his best ever performances as well, standing evenly with Omega throughout the match. This was incredibly physical and both men looked to be near injury at many points throughout the match. The last half of this match is unbelievable with more near falls that anyone could have imagined. Omega kicked out of several Rainmakers but finally succumbed to Okada’s offence after a spinning piledriver, allowing Okada to retain the belt. Interestingly, Omega never once hit his finisher, the One Winged Angel, which may be an indication of a future rematch between the two. Nevertheless this is a match that needs to be seen.
New Year Dash results
As tradition with Wrestle Kingdom weekend, the night after the big show is New Year Dash, a shorter program where many new storylines are developed, as well as providing some closure to events the night before. The show consists of larger tag matches to give the performers a little break after the more brutal Wrestle Kingdom matches, and is a great mix of fun & comedy and future story potential.
Kyle O’Reilly, David Finlay and Ricochet defeated Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask and Henare – 6:30
Fun, basic opening match that showed off some skills of Henare, one of the Young Lions. Standout here was David Finlay and Ricochet, who work very well together and hopefully take a run at the Jr Tag Titles as a duo.
Yujiro Takahashi and Hangman Page defeated Yoshi-Tatsu and Billy Gunn – 7:05
Nothing to really note here. Billy Gun continues to be weird in New Japan and Tatsu garners no reaction from the crowd aside from silence the majority of the time. Adam Page was the standout here and could easily develop if he was in better matches with better opponents.
CHAOS (Roppongi Vice & Yoshi-Hashi) defeated Bullet Club – 10:35
Very fun match that had some nice comedy spots, ranging from Romero stopping Trent from taking a dive (after he crashed the night before) and the Bucks giving Cole a kiss. Yoshi-Hashi pinned the Ring of Honor Champion with a roll up, in theory putting him in line for a title shot, and was attacked and beaten down by his opponents post match.
Scott Norton, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Cheeseburger and Hiro Saito defeated Bullet Club – 10:00
Another fun match that involved lots of physical comedy from Cheeseburger, as well as Kenny Omega attempting to recruit Norton into the Bullet Club. Odd that there was no story here for Omega, as he just participated in what many are considering the best match of the modern era just 24 hours prior.
Michael Elgin & KUSHIDA defeated Tetsuya Naito & Hiromu Takahashi – 13:45
Good match here with Kushida and Hiromu displaying their electric chemistry together. Naito has the fans eating out of his hand here, and his ascent back into the higher card has been great to watch. Naito hit Elgin with a low blow but, before he could get the pin, Dragon Lee appeared out of nowhere and took out Hiromu. Elgin ended the match with a Burning Hammer to Naito, and Kushida and Dragon Lee had a momentary staredown over the Jr Heavyweight title.
Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Katsuyori Shibata, Yuji Nagata & Juice Robinson defeated CHAOS – 14:55
Good tag match with everyone involved getting some work in, including a very bandaged and bruised Okada. Will Ospreay and Shibata had a few nice moments together, Will stating that he wants a surprising twist, Juice Robinson got the pin over Goto and picked up his NEVER Openweight title, seemingly wanting a match. After Juice’s performance at Wrestle Kingdom, it’s nice to see him moving up the card to be taken as a threat.
However the most interesting part of the match took place directly after as Suzuki-Gun returned to New Japan, destroying everyone in CHAOS before Minoru Suzuki arrived, laying Okada out with a Gotch piledriver and setting up our next main event scene. Brilliantly executed invasion on behalf of Suzuki-Gun and the crowd were beside themselves with the surprise.
NEVER Openweight Six-Man Title Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi, Manabu Nakanishi and Ryusuke Taguchi defeated Champions SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI – 13:25
In a surprising odd choice, Los Ingobernables lost this match, having only won the titles the night before. Having every member of Los leave Wrestle Kingdom with a title was impressive for the faction, with this loss it seems pointless. However this is the 6 Man title which has changed hands roughly 10 times since its inception, so there could be something new in the works for them.
With the aftermath of Wrestle Kingdom now at the forefront, New Japan looks to be heading into an exciting new direction. Suzuki-Gun has returned to take out anyone in their path and we can only assume Suzuki/Okada will main even one of the upcoming shows. Will Ospreay, Shibata, Goto and Juice Robinson are all poised for some new matchups, as well as the returning Michael Elgin. Bullet Club remains in flux however, and with Kenny Omega’s new announcement that he is going to be taking some time away from Japan and wrestling, their future is entirely unclear. All we know is that New Japan has succeeded in capturing the attention of the wrestling world yet again, and there are new storms brewing on the horizon.