The January tradition of NJPW Wrestle Kingdom was live from The Tokyo Dome this morning, the first big wrestling show of the new calendar year. Wrestle Kingdom has given us some of the best matches of all-time and New Japan was putting out another exciting card once again, this year’s show was in honor of the late-legend, Antonio Inoki.
The co-main events of the show would be ‘Switchblade’ Jay White defending the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship against Kazuchika Okada and then Will Ospreay defending the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship against ‘The Best Bout Machine’ Kenny Omega.
This is Omega’s first match in NJPW since Wrestle Kingdom 13 in 2019 when he lost the Heavyweight Championship to Hiroshi Tanahashi in a five-star main event. NJPW is where Omega put himself on the map as one of the best wrestlers in the world.
WWE’s Karl Anderson is in Japan to defend his Never Openweight Championship against Tama Tonga and both tag titles would be on the line as well as the women’s title. The first-ever NJPW World TV Champion was set to be crowned in a bout between Zack Sabre Jr. and Ren Narita, Keiji Muto’s last match in New Japan was also on the card and there was the exciting fatal-four-way for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.
We now take you to The Tokyo Dome!
Francesco Akira & TJP (c) vs. Lio Rush & YOH – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Match
Wrestle Kingdom would be kicking off with the winners of Super Junior Tag League 2022 Lio Rush and YOH challenging for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships against the reigning champs TJP and Francesco Akira. Rush and YOH only started teaming up less than two months ago, but they were now competing together on the biggest stage.
YOH got the match started quickly by diving over the top rope onto TJP and Akira during their entrance, and Rush followed that with a moonsault to the outside himself. However, the champs got control fairly quickly by alley-ooping Rush face-first into the steel ramp.
YOH would then be at the mercy of the champs, being hung in a tree of woe and getting Akira’s boots to the face. Akira got thrown by TJP onto YOH on the outside and Rush was trying to get back to the ring, but he was already bleeding.
Despite the crimson mask, Rush did get tagged back in and he was getting his team back in the match with his fast pace. Rush and YOH were able to connect a superplex powerbomb combo, which they followed with a DNV and Rush Hour, but TJP broke up the count.
They were then able to connect the 3K on TJP, but this time it was Akira breaking up the count. YOH then thought he had the finish, but TJP reversed into a roll-up and the champs were able to retain.
Winners: TJP & Francesco Akira retain the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championships
Kairi (c) vs. Tam Nakano – IWGP Women’s Championship Match
Next on the card, for the first time ever the IWGP Women’s Championship would be defended at Wrestle Kingdom with Kairi putting the title on the line against Tam Nakano. The match began with both women exchanging holds until they started trading stiff strikes.
Kairi did get some control with a spear and sliding elbow, before hitting a diving forearm from the top rope. Nakano came back in the match and was able to dive from the top rope herself, only she was able to hit a diving crossbody on the outside.
Nakano landed a German suplex and she followed that with a falcon’s arrow for a two-count. Just when Nakano seemed to be in the driver’s seat, Kairi caught her with two spinning back fists on the chin.
Kairi then went to the top rope and landed the insane elbow to get the win.
After the match all the rumours were proved to be true when the lights went out and to the ring came Mercedes Moné (Sasha Banks in WWE). This is Moné’s first appearance outside of the WWE and after shaking Kairi’s hand she would attack her.
Moné said she is in New Japan and in Stardom to make history, and that she is the CEO of this women’s division. She said at Battle in the Valley she would be challenging Kairi for the Women’s title and she held the title up high, Moné left us by saying, “In San Jose, I’m gonna leave you bankrupt, bitch. You can bank on that.”
Winner: Kairi retains the IWGP Women’s Championship
FTR (Cash Wheeler & Dax Harwood) (c) vs. Bishamon (Hirooki Goto & Yoshi-Hashi) – IWGP Tag Team Championship Match
Now, World Tag League 2022 winners Bishamon, Hirooki Goto and Yoshi-Hashi would challenge FTR, Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood, for the IWGP Tag Team Championships. The match began very technically until Goto and Harwood started throwing blows, Wheeler went against what FTR usually does by diving through the ropes with a suicide dive onto Bishamon.
Harwood then superplexed Goto and Wheeler was waiting on the other side of the ring to splash from the top onto Goto. The double-team was now on for FTR, hitting Goto with a powerbomb dragon suplex combo.
Goto was gassed already, but after landing an ushi-goroshi on Harwood he was able to get Hashi in the match. Hashi hit Wheler with a superkick and Harwood with a head-hunter, but not much later FTR was back in it to hit Goto with a big rig.
Harwood was later able to hit Hashi with a piledriver and then Wheeler assisted him for the spike piledriver, but Goto broke the count. Bishamon was then able to send Wheeler to the outside and hit Harwood with the finish for the win to claim the tag titles!
Winners: NEW IWGP Tag Team Champions…Bishamon
Ren Narita vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – NJPW World TV Championship Tournament Final
We would now have the tournament final to crown the first-ever NJPW World TV Champion between Zack Sabre Jr. and Ren Narita. Sabre Jr. and Narita started with similar ideas by both trying to land a submission to end this match early.
Narita landed the first big blow of the match with a big boot, but Sabre Jr. followed that by spiking Narita’s shoulder into the mat. Sabre Jr. then got to work on the arm by stomping it repeatedly.
Narita caught Sabre Jr. with a belly-to-belly, followed by a back elbow and a suplex. Both men then got into a competition of goal kicks into the spine, they were allowing each other to take turns.
This whole match felt like a competition with both men having such similar move sets, they were constantly exchanging moves. Sabre Jr. did think he had the upper hand with a knee bar, but Narita got to the bottom rope.
Sabre Jr. then hit at least 15 kicks that Narita just absorbed, he then hit Sabre Jr. with two kicks of his own followed by a northern-lights suplex. These men traded Germans, and then Sabre Jr. got Narita into a roll-up for a 2.99 count.
Narita attempted a knee bar, but Sabre Jr. turned that into an arm bar on the previously injured arm. Narita tapped out instantly and Sabre Jr. is the first-ever NJPW World TV Champion.
Post-match TMDK made their way into the ring offering Sabre Jr. a spot in their faction. Sabre Jr. put on the TMDK shirt and officially joined this faction with his long-time friends, Mikey Nicholls and Shane Haste.
Winner: NEW NJPW TV Champion…Zack Sabre Jr.
Karl Anderson (c) vs. Tama Tonga – Never Openweight Championship Match
‘The Machinegun’ Karl Anderson was back in NJPW for the second time since leaving for WWE to defend his Never Openweight Championship against Tama Tonga. Before the match began Anderson hit Tonga in the head with the title and after the bell rang he suplexed him onto the steel guard rail.
Anderson then brought Tonga onto the ramp for the bernard driver and attempted the gun stun on the ramp as well, but Tonga reversed. Tonga then went for a gun stun of his own on the apron, but that was reversed as well and Anderson got him with a big boot.
Anderson, later on, hit a TKO and he connected a diving neck breaker from the top rope. He began to call for the gun stun again, but Tonga reversed again this time into a SOC.
Tonga then went to the top rope, but Anderson met him up there where he attempted an avalanche brainbuster. Tonga was able to push Anderson off and hit a diving crossbody, and then both men would continue attempting the gun stun.
After a struggle, Tonga finally hit a leaping gun stun from the second rope followed by a regular gun stun for the win.
Winner: NEW Never Openweight Champion…Tama Tonga
Shota Umino, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Keiji Muto vs. Bushi, Sanada & Tetsuya Naito
It was now time for the final match in NJPW for Japanese wrestling legend Keiji Muto, also known as The Great Muta, as he teamed with Shota Umino and Hiroshi Tanahashi to take on Bushi, Sanada and Tetsuya Naito. Muto chose to start the match and he would be matching up with Sanada, and Sanada started quickly hitting a missile dropkick and moonsault onto Muto.
However, for 60, Muto still had some speed and was hoping to attempt his moonsault for the first time in years, but Tanahashi stopped him. LIJ would use the numbers game to get the advantage, as they triple-teamed Tanahashi.
Naito maintained control until Tanahashi got him with a knee drag and he then tagged in Umino. Umino came in hot taking out all three members of LIJ and he went to work on Naito.
Umino, Muto and Tanahashi then all locked one of their opponents into a submission, and then Bushi was left all alone in the ring. Muto first hit the shining wizard and then Umino hit the death rider to get the pinfall on Bushi.
Winners: Keiji Muto, Shota Umino and Hiroshi Tanahashi
Taiji Ishimori (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi vs. El Desperado vs. Master Wato – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship Match
The four-way match for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship was next with Taiji Ishimori defending against Master Wato, El Desperado and Hiromu Takahashi. The match started very fast with all of the men going for roll-ups, but Ishimori decided to wait on the ramp and let everyone else battle it out.
Wato then was able to his Desperado and Takahashi with a bulldog, but all three men decided to go out on the ramp to get Ishimori. Somehow Ishimori was able to reverse all of them and leave all three down and out on the ramp.
Ishimori then leaped from the second rope with a moonsault onto all of his challengers on the outside. Later on, Takahashi locked Wato in a submission and Desperado had Ishimori in a hold himself; Wato was able to lift Takahashi and powerbomb him onto Desperado to break both holds.
Desperado, Wato and Takahashi then all took turns diving through the ropes onto the outside leaving all four men down. Back in the ring, all these men hit a big move, but just when Wato seemed to get an advantage he was hit with a knee from Desperado.
Takahashi was able to powerbomb Ishimori as he was setting up a superplex on Wato. Takahashi hit Desperado with a time bomb, but he only got a two-count and then Wato dove in hitting Takahashi with an elbow.
Wato seemed to have the win, but Takahashi pulled the referee out and then hit Wato with a chair. However, Wato remained in control and he came as close as could be to the win, but after a reversal from Takahashi that was all crushed.
Takahashi hit Wato with the time bomb and was able to win the title once again.
Winner: NEW IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion…Hiromu Takahashi
Will Ospreay (c) vs. Kenny Omega – IWGP US Heavyweight Championship Match
In the first of the double main events, it would be arguably the most hyped match on the card, Will Ospreay defending the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship against Kenny Omega. This is Omega’s first match in NJPW since 2019, and the best bout machine was back in The Tokyo Dome.
Ospreay started the match well, reversing everything Omega was throwing at him and springing over the top rope onto Omega on the outside. As Ospreay tried to return to the ring, Omega launched him from the apron into the guard rail and he gained control.
Omega continued his offence and exposed the turnbuckle, he then booted Ospreay directly into the steel. Ospreay got a chance to recover after reversing a suplex into a stunner and he was able to hit a springboard forearm.
Both men began trading strikes on the apron and Ospreay went for oscutter, but Omega grabbed the ropes and Ospreay slammed spine-first into the apron. Omega then grabbed a table from under the ring placed it on top of Ospreay and leaped off the apron with a double foot stomp through the table on Ospreay.
Ospreay returned the favour with the table by suplexing Omega onto the back of the table and then landing a sky twist from the top rope onto Omega on the outside. Back in the ring Omega blocked another oscutter and landed a v-trigger followed by a poisonrana.
Omega then attempted an avalanche dragon suplex, but Ospreay flipped out of it landing on his feet and then connected on an oscutter for a two-count. Ospreay next attempted a Spanish fly from the top rope, but Omega blocked and dropped Ospreay with a DDT onto the top of the exposed turnbuckle busting him wide open.
Omega took this opportunity to fly to the outside with a terminator dive and he then drove Ospreay’s head repeatedly through the table on the outside. Omega continued to damage Ospreay’s head hitting a piledriver and multiple snap dragon suplexes.
Omega landed a tiger driver 97, but Ospreay still had the awareness to put his foot on the rope to break the count. Next, Omega dropped Ospreay jaw-first on the exposed turnbuckle and followed it with a v-trigger to the back of the head and an avalanche dragon suplex.
Omega is being more violent than ever and shouting at Ospreay to stay down as he keeps kneeing him in the head. Ospreay began to power up and was able to hit a super oscutter and after reversing the one-winged angel he hit styles clash.
As these men are battling out the one thing sticking out is that Omega is retaining wrist control. That wrist control allowed Omega to hit the kamagoye and then a one-winged angel to secure the victory after a beautiful war from start to finish!
Winner: NEW IWGP US Heavyweight Champion…Kenny Omega
Rating: 10/10 Instant Classic
Jay White (c) vs. Kazuchika Okada – IWGP World Heavyweight Championship Match
The final match on Wrestle Kingdom 17 is the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship match with ‘Switchblade’ Jay White defending his title against Kazuchika Okada. White and Okada have the tall task of following the instant classic Omega and Ospreay just put on.
White would get the first advantage of the match, due to a distraction from Gedo on the outside. White threw Okada into the guardrail repeatedly before dropping Okada gut-first on the apron of the ring.
Okada gave himself time to recover with a back-body drop and DDT combination. Okada then had to fight off Gedo once again, so Okada dropped White and Gedo both with a double DDT on the ramp.
Okada got White back in the ring and hit a diving missile dropkick, but White would be back on the offence not much later. White hit some nasty chops on Okada, but he just absorbed them and fired back with forearms before hitting a signature Okada dropkick.
This match is having a remarkably slow start and there is nothing more than a lot of striking and ground control. White picked things up slightly with a back suplex to the outside, a Regalplex and then a bloody Sunday.
Okada went for a rainmaker, but White reversed it into a blade runner for a close two-count. White wanted a second blade runner but instead hit Okada with his own rainmaker twice.
White now went for the second blade runner again, however, this time Okada reversed into a rainmaker for a two-count of his own. These men continued to trade some vicious blows, but Okada got the upper hand by hitting White with a blade runner of his own.
Okada was then able to hit his second rainmaker of the match and become the new IWGP World Heavyweight Champion!
After the match, Shingo Takagi made his way to the ring to congratulate Okada on his win and step up as the first to challenge him to match for the title.
Winner: NEW IWGP World Heavyweight Champion…Kazuchika Okada
Wrestle Kingdom 17
Wrestle Kingdom 17 was a solid show, but it did not have amazing matches from top to bottom. There were definitely some weak points on the card, but there were also some amazing high points. Omega against Ospreay may easily be the match of the year only four days into 2023, that bout was an instant classic. I do think the main event hurt the show slightly, just because it never really picked up. However, at the end of the day, this was still a great show and anyone that considers themself a wrestling fan needs to watch Omega vs Ospreay ASAP.