The January 4th show at the Tokyo Dome has been a tradition for decades, but they have branded it ‘Wrestle Kingdom’ the last eleven years. The last few January 4th shows have been epic and this year’s card was stacked as well.
2016 was all about anointing new stars in New Japan after losing stars Shinsuke Nakamura and A.J. Styles to the WWE, and Kota Ibushi to, um, free agency? NJPW has been trying to push Kenny Omega, Tetsuya Naito and random other members of Los Ingobernables de Japon to the next level.
Could this be the show when New Japan crowns a new face of the promotion?
New Japan Rumble
The New Japan Rumble is a match on the pre-show where all of the older stars appear, mixed with a few random current stars. The winner gets a shot at the IWGP title, so someone able to have a long match (not a legend like Kuniaki Kobayashi), will win the match.
I was glad to see Michael Elgin make an appearance on the show. He would have had a bigger role in the event if he didn’t break his orbital bone a few months ago. He started the match out with Billy Gunn (yes, THAT Billy Gunn). Elgin ran through the 13 other guys to win the Rumble. There was a nice spot with Elgin vs. Scott Norton. I would have loved to see that match if they were both in their primes. Also, Cheeseburger had some nice comedy spots that made the match enjoyable.
Winner: Michael Elgin
Tiger Mask W versus Tiger the Dark
This is a match scheduled to promote Tiger Mask W’s new cartoon. You can catch it on CrunchyRoll here in the U.S.
We all knew this was going to be a five to six minutes long. There was a nice spots, but it was a pretty forgettable match. Kota Ibushi, who recently left New Japan to wrestle across the world in different promotions, has allegedly been under the mask of Tiger Mask W in the past and he was under the mask again tonight. I heard ACH was under the mask of Tiger the Dark. Tiger Mask W beat Tiger the Dark with a modified Tiger Suplex into a sitout powerbomb (which is very close to Ibushi’s elevated sitout powerbomb finisher).
Winner: Tiger Mask W
Roppongi Vice (Beretta & Rocky Romero) versus The Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson)
This match is for the IWGP Jr. Tag Team Championships. This match was a change of pace from many of the junior tag team matches on Wrestle Kingdom in the past. There have been many three and four team matches for the title, so it was nice to have a one-on-one match this year. The Bucks tried to get counted out early, but faked Vice out and gave them both a Superkick and ran back into the ring. Vice barely beat the 20-count by about .000001 of a second. The Bucks must have thrown about 20 superkicks during the match. Beretta took a NASTY dive to the outside in which he landed flat on his back without anyone catching him. Romero was left alone in the ring with the Bucks. He went crazy with clotheslines and was then caught with a bunch of superkicks. I was surprised we didn’t see a single Indy Taker or Meltzer Driver from the Bucks tonight. We did see an awesome 450 splash onto Romero, who was off the ground with his legs on the second rope and the other Bucks holding him up…it was an awesome spot. Beretta finally wakes up in time to hold a Buck’s leg while Romero rolls up the other. Roppongi Vice are the new IWGP Junior Tag Team Champions.
Winner: Roppongi Vice
6-Man Gauntlet Match: Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page, Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Chaos (Jado, Will Ospreay, Yoshi-Hashi) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL, SANADA) vs. Champions (David Finley, Ricochet, Satoshi Kojima)
This match is for the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships. Bullet Club and Chaos stats off the match. Chaos impressed me early with some spots from Yoshi-Hashi and crazy aerials from Will Ospreay. Takahashi pinned Jado after his Pimp Juice finisher. I was hoping Chaos would last longer in hopes of seeing Ospreay face Ricochet again.
LIJ (Los Ingobernables de Japon) came out next in awesome skull gear. Bullet Club jumped them early since it took them a long time to get to the ring. BUSHI and SANADA impressed me a lot in this match. They bumped the ref and hit Takahashi with a chair. SANADA put him in the Skull End and he tapped.
The champions came out and were bum-rushed by LIJ. Finley and Ricochet had an awesome double senton to the outside spot. LIJ had another ref bump and BUSHI sprayed Kojima with the mist. Kojima kicked out of a seated powerbomb, but couldn’t kick out of an STO.
Winner: Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL, BUSHI, SANADA)
Juice Robinson versus Cody
This match is between two former WWE Superstars, the man who was once C.J. Parker in NXT versus the man who was once Cody Rhodes and Stardust. I was worried that this match wouldn’t have much fan interest. The Tokyo Dome is a vast, spacious dome, so there needs to be a lot of noise to be picked up on microphones. I was right to be worried. The crowd didn’t really care much. Juice Robinson actually had the best spot in the match when he caught Cody on the outside and gave him a overhead suplex…then cannonballed into him against the metal railing. Cody got the the momentum again after he put on a modified Indian deathlock. Cody won the match soon after with a Crossroads finisher.
It was a pretty forgettable match.
Adam Cole versus Kyle O’Reilly
This match is for the Ring of Honor World Championship. Two back-to-back matches with gaijins in the Tokyo Dome? Yikes.
This match had more heat since the New Japan audience knows these two men more than Juice or Cody. Adam Cole attacked O’Reilly’s shoulder early with a chair. Cole worked on the shoulder the entire match. It wasn’t a complete slaughter by Cole, but he was on offense for most of the match. Cole nailed O’Reilly with a ton of superkicks and then followed those with a Last Shot for the win.
O’Reilly’s contract with ROH ended a few days ago. I guess we can assume that he didn’t re-sign since he lost. I guess we could be seeing him in NXT soon.
Winner: Adam Cole
Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Roa) vs. Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano vs. G.B.H. (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma)
This match is for the IWGP Tag Team Championships. The G.o.D. are the champions coming into this match with Makabe & Honma earning a title shot after winning the Tag League tournament. Ishii and Yano was a spot in this match during a non-televised match. I think people were mad that Ishii didn’t have a bigger spot on the card after having such a great year, so they were added to this match to appease fans.
Yano came to the ring with G.o.D.’s tag titles and G.B.H.’s Tag League trophies. I guess he stole them from those guys during the week leading up to WK11. The guys instantly attacked Yano to start off the match. It wasn’t a very clean match. The wrestlers looked a bit lost at times during the match. I think the guys who were lost the most were G.o.D. The announcers were laughing their asses off since Tanga Roa was cussing up a storm while he was delivering moves and as he was getting hit with moves. The end is a bit of a jumble as Yano blindly tags in. Ishii goes to lariat G.o.D., but is stopped by them. Yano low-blows them from behind and rolls up Roa for the win.
Winner: Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano
Hiromu Takahashi versus KUSHIDA
This match is for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. Takahashi came back to New Japan after an excursion to CMLL where he was known as Kamaitachi. He arrived back to NJPW to use his real name after he joined Los Ingobernables de Japon. KUSHIDA has been the man in the junior division since focusing on his singles career.
Takahashi had some awesome matches with Dragon Lee in the past. I was expecting a lot from this match. This was a high-paced match with some big spots. Takahashi hit a big sunset flip bomb on KUSHIDA early in the match. KUSHIDA eventually got back in the ring after a near-20-count. Takahashi had a small botch when he missed a hurricanrana to the outside. KUSHIDA still rolled to the outside with Takahashi going to the top rope and hit a scary senton. Takahashi’s nerves could have gotten the best of him during that spot since he almost missed KUSHIDA and bumped hard on his hip.
KUSHIDA got a hoverboard lock on Takahashi a few minutes later, but Takahashi escaped. He hit a running death valley driver into the turnbuckle on KUSHIDA. He then hit a time bomb to finish him off to win the title.
Winner: Hiromu Takahashi
Hirooki Goto versus Katsuyori Shibata
This is for the NEVER Openweight Championship. I love NEVER title matches. They are old school, Japanese strong style. The guys who fight in these matches are ‘real men.’ There’s no flip or drives, these matches are just stiff ass kicking from bell to bell.
Goto is New Japan’s bridesmaid. He is able to get to the dance, but can never win the big one. He had an great appearance in the G1 before losing to Okada in his block. The crowd actually got into his matches as he was the underdog and the crowd actually wanted him to beat Okada in that match.
Shibata is the man. I love his matches and how he lays his stuff in stiff and everything looks real. The crowd absolutely loves him. This match definitely pushed the crowd to the next level. The pops started to get louder and louder starting with this match. I can understand why since these guys built this match up to a crescendo after back and forth headbutts and stiff shots. The crowd started to get behind Goto near the end after some close near-falls. Goto finally hit an inverted GTR and then a regular one to actually win the title. Goto is the Openweight champion!
Winner: Hirooki Goto
Tetsuya Naito versus Hiroshi Tanahashi
As much as I wanted to see Kenny Omega face Kazuchika Okada, I was looking forward to this match the most. Tanahashi is the quintessential good guy in New Japan and Naito is a guy who disrespects the IC title every chance he gets. He steps on the title when it is on the ground and tosses it in the air without a care in the world.
The crowd confused me a little. I understand Naito is the biggest anti-hero in New Japan now that the Bullet Club isn’t as strong (just my opinion)…but the crowd cheered Naito quite a few times when he got the better of Tanahashi.
Tanahashi hit a nasty slingblade on the apron. Naito looked like he was knocked silly after that one. He was also loopy after Tanahashi hit a High Fly Flow to the outside. His body came across Naito’s head and he legit looked out. He was okay and Tanahashi threw him back in the ring.
Both wrestlers worked each other’s left knee. There was a cool spot where they took turns kicking each other’s knee while standing. It was a cool variation of the usual big haymaker punching spot that guys do in long matches. I thought Tanahashi had Naito finished, but Naito put his knees up when Tanahashi went for another High Fly Flow. Naito was able to hit a Destino off the top rope and then a regular one for good measurement. He retained his title, the first successful title defense of the night.
Winner: Tetsuya Naito
Kenny Omega versus Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kenny Omega was the first gaijin (foreigner) to win the G1 Climax tournament. Many thought that New Japan wouldn’t bother with a gaijin winning such a huge tournament if they weren’t going to put the title on him. Well, it’s not that simple. Kazuchika Okada was crowned as the new face of New Japan at last year’s Wrestle Kingdom when he beat Tanahashi. Could New Japan really beat Okada in his first year as ‘the man’ on the biggest show of the year?
Kenny Omega came out to a Terminator-themed video and entrance. It’s the third Terminator wrestling entrance in the past few years with Triple H being the first at Wrestlemania 31 and Rey Mysterio at AAA’s Verano de Escandalo. It feels a bit overdone, but since there’s rarely anything new in pro wrestling, I’ll let it slide.
Okada came out with raining Okada dollars falling from the sky. His entrances always make him look like a superstar (take note WWE). He really is the total package. He should be the man for New Japan for the next decade. NJPW has some great talent, but he will be hard to top.
The match starts out with a lot of callbacks from previous confrontations. They use every part of the ring, ringside and even the section near the fans. The entire match was insane, but there were three spots that made me pop the most.
First, the springboard backwards dive by Omega on Okada is insane. Next is Omega’s crazy over-the-top rope bump onto a table (it could have been really bad if he landed on the edge of the platform). Finally, there was the dragon suplex from the top rope…holy balls!
The final ten minutes of this match was a work of art. A ton of finisher teases and Omega kicking out of a few Rainmaker clotheslines. There was also a cool spot when Omega reversed a tombstone reversal into a variation of a package piledriver. Okada finally got the better of Omega after he hit a jumping tombstone and then a final rainmaker to retain the IWGP Heavyweight title.
Winner: Kazuchika Okada
Bobby Roberts (otherwise known as Sweetbob) is the creator of ‘America’s White Boy’ and contributor at Project Shanks. His writing has been featured on ESPN’s ‘SportsNation’, Sports Illustrated’s Hot Clicks, Guyspeed, and various other sites. You can follow him on Twitter at @Sweetbob.