Well Wrestle Kingdom 17 has come and gone and it’s safe to say that NJPW started the new year off with a bang! The so called “casual fans” would have watched the event just to see Kenny Omega vs Will Ospreay, much like they did (and yours truly did) for Wrestle Kingdom 12 when Chris Jericho announced he was facing Omega back in 2018. Just like 2018, I’m sure that New Japan has gained more fans just through the Omega/Ospreay match alone, Although the speculation of a certain “Boss” showing up would have had gained people’s interests too. Not every match though hit the mark, but nothing really stunk out the dome either. The fact that the crowd was finally allowed to make vocal noise and not just clap was a big plus. Below is my brief recap and STAR rating for each match on the main card.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles: Catch 2/2 defeated LiYoh.
Francesco Akira and TJP were able to get the better of Lio Rush and Yoh in this energetic opener. Clocking in at just over 10 minutes, these four guys held nothing back, there was even blood early on when Rush took a header on the steel entrance ramp. A fun sprint of match ended with a surprise roll up with the champions retaining. ***3/4 stars.
IWGP Womens World Title: KAIRI defeated Tam Nakano.
This match will be remembered more for the “Shock” appearance of the former Sasha Banks now going by Mercedes Mone than anything of real note in the actual match itself. Going less than 6 minutes, these ladies really didn’t have enough time to get out of second gear and that’s a shame given the talent involved. the finish came from nowhere after KAIRI hit two spinning back fists and then the Insane elbow drop for the win. Mercedes then came out sporting a new look, faked respect and hit KAIRI with what appeared to be a new finishing move that the Japanese star appeared to botch. The promo cut afterwards was awkward and seemed to show a little bit of nervousness from the recently free agent.
MATCH ** Stars. PROMO *3/4 Stars.
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles: Bisamon defeated FTR
The fall from grace continues for the team known as FTR as they lost their third set of tag titles in as many months. Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI continued their incredible run of form from the World Tag Leagues win to capturing the gold off of the AEW fan favourites in another fun sprint of a tag match. With reports of Dax having travel issues and only making it to the Dome 30 minutes before the match took place (not sure if that is storyline or not) these 4 competitors worked well with the time afforded to them. After loosing the titles, FTR showed respect to the new champs with hand shakes and hugs all round. *** Stars.
NJPW World Television Title: Zack Sabre Jr defeated Ren Narita.
Capping off a tournament to crown a champion of a new title, New Japan couldn’t have asked for two better people to showcase what the new TV title will be all about. The fourth match in a row that came in under 11 minutes didn’t overshadow the brutality these double tough bastards put themselves through. Trading stiff kicks, chops, forearm smashes to the jaw, mixed with technical wizardry on the mat with submission counters. This match reminded me so much of Shibata vs Ishii at Wrestle Kingdom 10 it was that good. ZSJ beat the young Narita by submission to be crowned new TV champion, then joined TMDK after the match to start a new chapter in his career. **** Stars.
NEVER Openweight Title: Tama Tonga defeated Karl Anderson.
I am more than happy to eat my words and have since apologised to Karl Anderson about my comments in my preview video about thinking he would phone it in so to speak. After signing with WWE while STILL champion, this writer thought that Machine Gun would do the bare minimum, drop the title and get the hell out of there. Apart from the dropping of the title, I was dead wrong. These guys put in a shift with some awesome spots in the match, Tonga even took a sit-out tombstone on the entrance ramp. At the end of the day, Anderson done business the right way (even if the finisher was badly botched,) putting over his former Bullet Club stable mate strong on his way back to WWE. *** Stars.
Keiji Muto, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shota Umino defeated Bushi, SANADA and Tetsuya Naito.
In what may have seemed like a big demotion for Tanahshi and Naito to be in a 6 man tag on the biggest stage in Japan, these 2 men would have been honoured to be in Keiji Muto’s final match for NJPW, hell, all involved would have been. It wasn’t a classic, it wasn’t an absolute banger, but it was a good send off to a legend of the sport that has done it all in his 40 year career and a nice show case for former young boy Shota Umino. Shooter finished the match like a house on fire and picked up the pinfall victory over Bushi. **3/4 Stars.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title: Hiromu Takahashi defeated Taiji Ishimori, Master Wato and El Desperado.
WooHoo we finally got a match that went over 11 minutes, and with good reason too. 3 legends and a young up and comer in Master Wato put on a clinic in this action-packed Junior Heavyweight Title clash. This match was so well structured that it had you believing that the youngster could do the impossible and capture his first title in the company, and everyone in the Dome would have been overjoyed if that had happened. Now is not the time to put the gold on Master Wato though as I have a feeling his chase for the title in 2023 will be a big talking point for the division. Instead we got the cat loving Takahashi regaining control of the title and the division, Bringing the Championship back to the LIJ stable and all is right with the world again. ****1/4 Stars.
IWGP United States Title: Kenny Omega defeated Will Ospreay.
Holy Bleeping Bleep!!!!!!!! This match had a hell of a lot of hype to live up to and it did not disappoint. In only Omega’s second singles bout since coming back from a long injury lay-off he really proved he is the God of Professional Wrestling, and Ospreay isn’t that far behind him. For anyone that says these guys can’t tell a story and they are just high spot monkeys they can go suck a lemon. This was probably the best Wrestling match since Omega vs Okada at Dominion in 2018, maybe it didn’t quite reach that lofty expectation but it was pretty darn close. The impact these two warriors hit each other with was wince inducing. The Slams and suplexes were heavy and had to be done with such precision to avoid injury, it was jaw dropping, can’t look away, Wrestling Magic. Omega got a cut and swelling from multiple Ospreay kicks to the head in the corner of the exposed turnbuckle, and Kenny replied in kind with a top rope DDT into said exposed buckle that caused Ospreay to be busted open. The Selling by Will Ospreay in this match was next level and proves that he belongs in the conversation of best wrestler in the world right now. In the end Omega was just too much for the young Brit to handle and he put Ospreay away with the One Winged Angel and became the NEW United States Champions in what was a very surprising result given Omega’s standing with AEW. ******1/2 Stars. (that’s right, 6 and a half!)
IWGP World Heavyweight Title: Kazuchika Okada defeated Jay White.
If there were two wrestlers on the planet that would even have a chance at following the previous match it was these two and they gave it a bloody good crack, but unfortunatley try as they might it was all in vain. Thats not to say that this match wasn’t any good, no no, this match was brilliant. However, the crowd just seemed a tad drained for the majority of it and only really came alive towards the end. In a nice nod to the late, great Antonio Inoki, Okada wore all black in a show of respect to his mentor. The action was hard hitting and crisp with plenty of storytelling from two masters of their craft. Each wrestler was able to counter the others finisher multiple times before Okada was able to put Switchblade away with the RainMaker. Jay White has been a great antagonist as champion in an era of the dreaded “Clap Crowds” but it was only fitting to put the title back on Okada, even if he doesn’t have a long run with the top strap it was still a great feel-good moment to close the show. ****3/4 Stars.
Author : Ric Othen
Photo Credit: NJPW
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