New Japan Pro-Wrestling starts off its year with the biggest show of the Japanese wrestling calendar, Wrestle Kingdom 17.
The New Japan Rambo | KOPW Provisional Championship
The New Japan Rambo is always a lot of fun and this year was no exception, from getting to see TMDK back together inside a New Japan Ring to the battle for the final four, it had it all. The last four will go on to tomorrow’s New Years Dash to compete for the KOPW Belt. For those new to the New Japan bubble the KOPW belt is brand new, it was a trophy before and stands for King Of Pro Wrestling. At the start of every year, a new provisional champion is crowned, through the year it is defended in stipulation matches and whoever holds the title by year’s end is the King Of Pro Wrestling for that year.
Shingo Takagi is the defending champion, being the KOPW winner of 2022. Toru Yano was the first recipient of this honour, winning it in a brilliant four-way match against, El Desperado, SANADA and Kazuchika Okada on 29th August 2020, he would go on to be crowned the KOPW champion of 2020 and then become its first provisional champion in 2021. Yano would end the year by defeating Yoshinobu Kanemaru to become the champion of 2021. We will dive into that a little more at a later date.
The final four this year includes two former champions, Shingo Takagi  and Toru Yano [2020 & 2021] and two first-time finalists in The Great-O-Kahn and SHO.
Antonio Inoki Memorial 6-Man Tag Match | Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima & Togi Makabe Vs Minoru Suzuki, Tiger Mask & Tatsumi Fajinami
What a fantastic match these six men put on in memory of the late great founder of New Japan Pro-Wrestling Antonio Inoki. The first team, consisting of Yuji Nagata, Satoshi and Togi Makabe, is the third generation of stars for New Japan, they are the elder statesmen, the grandpas or dad’s as they are affectionately called.
The second team consists of Minoru Suzuki, who used to be a young boy for Inoki, Tiger Mask, who was trained by the original Tiger Mask and is wearing his classic cloak and the legendary Fujinami who is the first generation of stars from NJPW. These guys can still go in the ring and if you like what you see make sure to find some of their older matches on New Japan World.
Tiger Hitori is also back, despite retiring he always comes back for one more match. Another legendary member of the Japanese wrestling scene. The greatest part of all of this is the red Inoki towles everyone wore, it was such a treat.
The main card starts with a video tribute to the founder of New Japan, Antonio Inoki, it is a real tribute tonight to the man behind the company. New Japan has brought so much joy to people all over the world. After half a century
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship | Catch 2/2 [TJP & Francesco Akira] Vs LiYoh [Lio Rush & YOH]
The match gets started quickly with YOH not waiting for the bell flying over the ropes to take out the IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag-Team Champions and bring TJP into the ring. Lio Rush is soon in the mix but is taken out on the ramp. YOH teaming with RUSH has been a masterstroke of genies with the two of them just being so in sync. A rematch is definitely needed after this barn burner of an opener. The match ends with a snap roll-up with TJP getting the victory for his team over YOH, it could have gone anyway. The boys from the United Empire have finally met their match in the junior division.
IWGP Women’s Championship | Kairi Vs Tam Nakano
The first women’s match to be on the main card at Wrestle Kingdom, this is a historic moment for the women of Stardom. This is also the first women’s match since 1994 to take place in the Tokyo Dome. Tam Nakano might seem all sweet and cuddly but don’t underestimate her inside of the ring, she is as tough as they come.
Kairi is more well known internationally so we know what to expect, but this is also a Kairi you may have never seen before if your first exposure to her, or only should I say, is in WWE. This match is such a great taster of what to expect from the IWGP Women’s Championship scene and STARDOM as a whole. I fully suggest you subscribe to them now and watch their Kairi Collection.
The worst kept secret in wrestling sees the former Sasha Banks, now known as Mercedes Mone, come down to the ring in all her splendour, attacking Kairi after her first defence. Her hair is blue and orange flames, I very clear nod to Bam Bam Bigalow who was a huge foreign star in Japan. This could also be a nod to her favourite wrestler, Eddie Guerrero, who wrestled in New Japan as Black Tiger and had flames as one of his motives on his gear.
She is here to make a statement, introducing herself and mocking her former rival in WWE. These two put on some of the greatest matches during the lockdown era so expect even more now she is in Japan. February 18th can’t come soon enough and I’m sure everyone is waiting on bated breath for Battle in the Valley.
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship | FTR Vs Bashamon
FTR had an outstanding 2022 but will their 2023 be just as good? Well, it doesn’t matter if they have championship gold this team will always be the standard when it comes to tag team wrestling. Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI are also one of the best tag teams in the world, maybe not as heralded as western teams but they should be in the conversation.
FTR had a hell of a travel day, with delays and only arriving half an hour before the event started, but that hasn’t slowed them down. The pace is more considered than the previous tag team match but it is no less exciting. This is really a wrestlers wrestling match, pure and simple, full of hard hits and limp work that the new japan crowd love so much. The crowd becomes unhinged as the match goes on, and FTR throws everything at YOSHI-HASHI who just keeps fighting back. What a match but who will face the new IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions and what is next for FTR?
NJPW World Television Championship | Zack Sabre Jr. Vs Ren Narita
Now for a brand new championship this time from the NJPW of America, which is exciting. First up is Ren Narita, a son of strong style, a man trained under Katsuyori Shibata. Narita embodies all of those who have come before him. He is facing off against the biggest star of British strong style Zack Sabre Jr.
This match is 15 mins and if it goes to a time-limit draw then a rematch will be needed. Ren Narita has been on an absolute tear in New Japan Strong and has improved, finding his style and really honing his craft, this is the biggest test of his young career so far and what a challenge in Sabre Jr. This match is another incredible match and for different reasons than the ones that have come before, technical and strong in everything they do, this pair are spiritually connected in style and I would gladly watch a rematch between the two.
Alternatively, maybe Ren Narita could come to the dark side and join Zack in what should be the year he becomes the leader of a faction. It seems Zack does have a few friends still in New Japan after the disbandment of Suzuki-Gun. We see him reuniting with his boys from his time in NOAH and adding a third to TMDK. What an excellent night for this new exciting team.
Never Openweight Championship | Karl Anderson Vs Tama Tonga
Here we see two of the core four of Bullet Club fight it out for the Never Openweight Championship. Tama Tonga has been on a redemption arch for some time, especially after being kicked out of the Bullet Club but this has allowed him to flourish as a singles star and he has taken his brothers Tanga Loa and Hikuleo along for the ride. Karl Anderson re-signed with WWE before dropping the Never Openweight Championship and this caused quite a conundrum for both promotions.
It feels like this is Tama’s moment to finally defeat his demons and fully establish himself as a singles star to be reckoned with. The hard fall and slow rise of Tama Tonga is partially down to Anderson, who convinced Jay White to kick him to the curb. There is so much history in this match but with Anderson out of the door, they need to get this belt back in the hands of a contracted New Japan star.
Keiji Muto’s Last New Japan Match | Keiji Muto, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Shota Umino Vs Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & BUSHI [Los Ingobernables de Japon]
BUSHI and SANADA both got their start in AJPW and worked under Mutoh while Tetsuya Naito has been a constant in New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
The past present and future is the best way to describe this team. First out we have Shota Umino who has the charisma of Hiroshi Tanahashi and the skill of a young Keiji Muto. Shooter is the future ACE of New Japan, you can just feel it in the air and the way he is presented. Next out is Hiroshi Tanahashi, a man who has been dependable and sailing the New Japan ship through every storm over the last 20 years is teaming with the legendary Keiji Muto who has wrestled all over the world.
The match starts off between SANADA and Muto, acknowledging each other and then getting down to business. Mutoh looks fantastic here and it’s great seeing him out of the Great Mutah gimmick for his last match in a New Japan ring. Now the present enters the ring, Hiroshi Tanahashi, taking down the members of LIJ on the apron and battling with SANADA.
BUSHI gets to have his shot at Tanahashi before taking on The Ungovernable One, Tetsuya Naito. The two of them have always had great chemistry but soon enough it’s time for Shota to take on Naito and he proves yet again that he can hang with the legends he is with. One day I hope to see Shota Umino Vs Tetsuya Naito in the main event of a New Japan show. This is also a great match to show off what BUSHI can do, who is one of the hardest workers and most underrated wrestlers on this year’s card.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship | Taiji Ishimori Vs El Desperado Vs Hiromu Takahashi Vs Master Wato
Taiji Ishimori is one of the most decorated Junior Heavyweights in New Japan history and he walks into Wrestle Kingdom 17 as the champion, but will he be able to keep a hold on the division or will he be dethroned by long-term rivals Hiromi Takahashi and El Desperado. The wild card in this match is that of young Master Wato who upon his return from excursion didn’t really set the world on fire but has really improved in the last year, he still has a way to go but this is a great moment for him.
Multiman matches haven’t always been a thing in New Japan but when they started in the junior division a few years back it created an exciting whirlwind of high-flying moves and technical submissions. This new way of doing things has allowed the world to see that the junior heavyweights are not just flippy guys, there is so much more variety to this division.
This match has some of the best wrestlers in the company, and some of the most popular, fighting it out. This bout is incredible with so many near falls you won’t know who you will want to win. Taiji Ishimori is as sneaky as ever with some Bullet Club shithousery while Master Wato comes into his own getting the crowd fully behind him, but he is no match for Hiromu Takahashi. El Desperado was also an absolute stud in this match, but he is one of the most popular among foreign fans, another fantastic feud between Takahashi and Desperado might be on the cards.
IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship | Will Ospreay Vs Kenny Omega
Kenny Omega is back in New Japan Pro-Wrestling and ready to put on one of the best matches of the night and to take on one of the biggest heels in the company, Will Ospreay and his band of vicious gentlemen The United Empire. Omega is The Cleaner, he is the best bout machine and will he be able to be one of the best returns in New Japan History? I guess we will see from this generational talent.
Ospreay on the other hand has been a rising star and the talk of the internet for years. He has built his heel persona over the last few years since he left CHAOS and betrayed Kazuchika Okada. if you want to see him at his most manic you have to watch their confrontation at this year’s Wrestle Kingdom 17 press conference.
This match is absolutely insane and everything and more that from two of the best in the world. This feud runs deep from Kenny leaving New Japan and Osprey’s annihilation of Kota Ibushi. This match has everything from hard-hitting moves to high-flying moments and even a Red Shoes bump, which he is very good at.
There are scary moments too but you can see how much hatred there is between the two, they don’t hold anything back and it’s an absolute bloodbath. Kenny Omega is brutal yet Will Ospreay somehow always kicks out, he is someone who just won’t give up. Omega is the same, they seem to be two sides of the same coin. You can read more about the two of them and their rivalry here.
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship | Jay White Vs Kazuchika Okada
Kazuchika Okada has come to the ring with a hint of the Inoki about him, from the red towel around his neck to the all-back gear, he wants to be the saviour of New Japan. Jay White is again in his all-white gear, showing that symbolically he is the good guy of his story yet he is the villain in everyone else’s lives.
This will be a very different affair from the last one, a lot more calculated, with a very slow start that should build to a fabulous crescendo would be the best way to describe it. Normally that makes people think of boring, but that’s not the case at all. Methodical in New Japan is more akin to a murder mystery with lots of small moments and carefully thought-out plans that build and build, the action is there but it doesn’t ramp up till the last third of the match.
The bout is allowed to breathe in a way that is different from the Omega/Osprey battle, there is time for selling, for recovery for subtle moments between the two. This match is a three-act play and that’s the beauty of the Kings Road Style that Okada and White do so well. the double main event were both as good as death other but a very different story being told.
After Okada finally defeated Jay White a new challenger has made himself known and that is Shingo Takagi.
NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17 Results
KOPW New Japan Rambo | SHO, Hikeleo, EVIL, Tomohiro Ishii, Great-O-Kahn, DOUKI, Rocky Romero, KENTA, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Aaron Hanare, Ryusuke Taguchi, Jeff Cobb, Shane Haste, Mikey Nicholls, Yujiro Takahasi, Toru Yano, El Phantasmo, Taichi, Shingo Takagi | Winners: Shingo Takagi, SHO, Great O’Kahn and Toru Yano.
Antonio Inoki Memorial 6-man tag match | Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima & Togi Makabe Vs Minoru Suzuki, Tiger Mask & Tatsumi Fajinami | Winner: Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima & Togi Makabe
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship | Catch 2/2 [ TJP & Francesco Akira] Vs LiYoh [Lio Rush & YOH]| Winner: TJP pinned YOH [ TJP & Francesco Akira]
IWGP Women’s Championship | KAIRI Vs Tam Nakano | Winner:KAIRI
IWGP Tag Team Championship | FTR Vs Bashamon | Winner: Bashamon [ Hikooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI]
NJPW World Television Championship | Zack Sabre Jr. Vs Ren Narita | Winner: Zack Sabre Jr.
Never Openweight Championship | Karl Anderson Vs Tama Tonga | Winner: Tama Tonga
Keiji Muto’s Last New Japan Match | Keiji Muto, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Shota Umino Vs Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & Bushi [Los Ingobernables de Japon] | Winner: Shota Umino pinned BUSHI [Keiji Muto, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Shota Umino]
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship | Taiji Ishimori Vs El Desperado Vs Hiromu Takahashi Vs Master Wato | Winner: Hiromu Takahashi
IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship | Will Ospreay Vs Kenny Omega | Winner: Kenny Omega
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship | Jay White Vs Kazuchika Okada | Winner: Kazuchika Okada