New Japan Pro Wrestling
Wrestle Kingdom 11
January 4, 2017
Tokyo Dome – Tokyo, Japan
Watch: NJPW World
Meet our previewers:
- John Carroll: John is on the record as saying NJPW was their 5th favorite promotion last year and has some doubts anything on this show will top HARASHIMA-Irie or Shirai-Iwatani from the past few weeks, so of course they’re the perfect person to preview this show! But they’re still hardcore enough to be waking up at 3 am EST for it, watching 5 hours, and going to work their day job right after. You can find them on @openvoicegate and @toshanshuinla.
- Brennan Patrick: Brennan is a VOW contributor, co-host of the Burning Spirits puroresu podcast, and a big fan of Shibata folding his arms in angst. You can follow him on Twitter @bren_patrick.
- Rich Kraetsch: Rich is responsible for this site existing. Sorry! He’s currently the managing editor of the website and hosts the VOW Flagship podcast. Follow him on Twitter @voiceswrestling.
Dark New Japan Rumble Match
X vs. X
John Carroll: The rambo is the rambo, you know? If you complain about the rambo match you’re kind of a dork. A bunch of dudes and a sprinkling of legends will stand around and do a lot of nothing and I will probably sleep through it, to be quite honest with you. I guess the only real question here is whether or not the win means something this year: two years ago it was the springboard for Yuji Nagata’s Intercontinental title shot against the King of Largo himself, Shinsuke Nakamura. Last year it was an excuse for Jado to steal smooches from some idol. Who knows what it’ll be this time around. Maybe whoever wins it this year gets to dance with Doraemon. Prediction: Literally who cares
Brennan Patrick: The disgraced Suzuki-gun is returning to New Japan at Wrestle Kingdom 11 in the RAMBO, and in this dream, the stalwart Yuji Nagata and the ghost-with-the-most, Kazushi Sakuraba, stand heel-to-heel fighting Suzuki-gun to the bitter end, only for Nagata to fall victim to Suzuki’s sleeper hold and get thrown over the top rope. All hail, Suzuki-gun. Prediction: Minoru Suzuki
Rich Kraetsch: People automatically associate the pre-show Rumble as a comedy-only match but as we saw from its debut at Wrestle Kingdom 9, the Rumble can be used to put someone over and lead to a title match. Sure, last year’s Jado win was utterly meaningless to the grand scheme of things and the match was more to laugh at Kabuki, Cheeseburger, Fujiwara, etc. but that debut year saw Yuji Nagata, feeling disrespected by his placement in the match, win and parlay it into a future title match. Which of those two scenarios will we see this year? I’m all-in on a Scott Norton win eventual IWGP Heavyweight Title win and long reign leading to a WK 12 main event between Okada and Norton. Or, hey Minoru Suzuki would be cool too. Prediction: Minoru Suzuki?
Tiger Mask W vs. Tiger The Dark
John Carroll: The opener of the Tokyo Dome is Kota friggin’ Ibushi against ACH, and if you’re not hyped for that just because they’re both going to be playing anime characters you need to reevaluate that sentence. KOTA IBUSHI and noted anime mark ACH are gonna dress up as tiger-themed superheroes and have a pretend fight! I’m sorry, that is awesome. Obviously Kota W is winning this, but if it gets even like ten minutes it should be pretty fantastic. There’s a lot of rumors flying around about Kota, too, so this could easily end up not being his only appearance of the night. Intrigue! Prediction: Tiger Mask W
Brennan Patrick: Uh, Kota Ibushi versus…ACH? Prediction: Kota Ibushi
Rich Kraetsch: Lost in discussion of Wrestle Kingdom is the fact that freaking Kota Ibushi and ACH are going to be in the opening. Read that over again. Okay again. Okay, one more time. This is a wheelhouse match for both guys who will obviously relish the opportunity to play anime characters on arguably the biggest non-WrestleMania wrestling show of the year. Prediction: Tiger Mask W
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title Match
Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson) (c) vs. Roppongi Vice (Beretta & Rocky Romero)
John Carroll: Thank god the Young Bucks are on this card so every hacky Twitter account could reply to the NJPW Global “come see the real wrestling” tweet with “YEAH BUT YOU EMPLOY THE YOUNG BUCKS.” We all have our purposes in life, I guess. If you can get excited for the Dome crowd sitting on their hands while the Bucks and RPG Vice do spots in match #234887 in their seemingly neverending series, well, god bless you. Everyone’s take on this seems to be “at least it’s not a multi-team tag this year” but honestly I think the multi-team tags work better at the Dome than this. All you really want to see here is some wacky spots for twelve minutes or whatever, because it’s gonna be a damn near impossible struggle to get the crowd to make any noise for it anyway. Remove the one or two extra teams and you just have a straight-up tag match in front of a dead crowd instead, which doesn’t seem to me like it’ll be any better. I flipped a coin to decide who was winning this, by the way, because that’s about as much thought as Gedo seems to put into booking this division. Prediction: Young Bucks
Brennan Patrick: If 2016 taught you anything, it’s that the wrestling landscape needed to be shaken up. Lots of whacky things are going on in the pro wrestling world. The Young Buck do what they do, and for them, that’s what they do best. They are two of the biggest golden goose eggs in the WWE-EU’s fantasy draft basket and one of the more polarizing tag teams in the Twitter-verse. They’re super talented, they know how to work a crowd and play the wrestling game. While I enjoy a lot of the stuff from ‘live shows’ in the states, I can’t tell you what the last ‘great’ Young Bucks match was in New Japan. Admittedly, I can’t tell you what the last ‘great’ RPG Vice match was either but I like watching them work in New Japan more than the Young Bucks. But if anything needs to be shaken up in 2017, it’s this division. Prediction: Roppongi Vice
Rich Kraetsch: I’m more excited for this match than I probably should be. The one-on-one nature (as opposed to the multi-team) gives me some hope that these guys can develop, build and work a story throughout the match. One of the big issues with the multi-teams of Dome pasts, they are just clusterfucks. Each guy has about five minutes to get all his shit in and everyone just seems to take turns. This match could realistically have a well built, well constructed story. I’m really hoping this shocks people and is better than it has any right to be. The cool story will be who comes out on top. Do they want Roppongi Vice to continue their momentum or does NJPW want to establish The Young Bucks as the premiere junior team and put them in the pantheon of all-time greats? Prediction: The Young Bucks
NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Title Four Way Gauntlet Match
David Finlay, Ricochet & Satoshi Kojima (c) vs. BULLET CLUB (Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. CHAOS (Jado, Will Ospreay & YOSHI-HASHI) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL & SANADA)
John Carroll: I really have no idea what to expect from this one, to be quite honest with you. When they first announced it I thought we were bringing the DG-style 4-way 6-man to New Japan and had visions of Kojima-as-Kong, running through and lariating the shit out of two people at once. But no, this is actually a gauntlet match, where two teams start, the winners move on, and then the winners of match #2 face the final team (I think the last team is going to be the current champions by default, right? vaguely recall hearing that) to decide the champions. To me at least that is nowhere near as cool, but I guess a lot of it depends on how much time they get. If they give all three matches at least ten minutes, this could be pretty fun. That’s a pretty substantial total amount of time for a match this low on the card though, so I think at least one trio is getting the shaft here. Anyway, there’s really no good reason why LIJ shouldn’t win this. As we show in the NJ e-book they never lose their trios matches anyway, so why not put the belts on them while you’re at it? Prediction: Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL & SANADA)
Brennan Patrick: This is going to be a clusterfuck. Ospreay and Ricochet will dance and fly, Bullet Club will continue to suck, Kojima will lariat YOSHI-HASHI and vice versa, and Los Ingobernables de Japon will pluck the trios belts out of the muddied waters. LIJ is the only club that matters right now in New Japan and I think in 2017, New Japan’s diving in headfirst. I can’t say I’m looking forward to this match but I will say that I’m interested in the outcome. Prediction: Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL & SANADA)
Rich Kraetsch: Unfortunately when Tomohiro Ishii was removed for the CHAOS team and replaced by Jado, the result of this match was no longer in doubt. Sure, they were longshots before but now it’s unquestioned: Los Ingobernables is taking home the title. My focus will be on the structure of the gauntlet match and if it hurts or helps. Prediction: Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL & SANADA)
Cody vs. Juice Robinson
John Carroll: First of all I think we need to give Juice Robinson a big ‘ol pat on the back for getting himself all the way into a singles match at the Dome. He started out in New Japan as just this weird white kid with dreadlocks, but over time he has matured into a super fun worker, a babyface house of fire who the crowd really has taken a liking to. He’s come a long way from his dead end gimmick in NXT, that’s for damn sure. Of course he’s probably just here to make Cody look as good as possible in his debut and do the job to him, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take a moment to appreciate Juice. So here you go, Juice: you were one of my absolute favorite guys in New Japan this past year, a rare ray of sunshine on some very dreary NJPW undercards. Way to go! Anyway, yeah, this match will probably be fine because Juice is in it but if you care one iota about anything involving Cody Rhodes or really the Bullet Club in general (excluding Kenny) god bless you, because I sure don’t. Prediction: Cody
Brennan Patrick: The American Nightmare, oooh boy! I, for one, can’t wait to see what Cody Rhodes does in New Japan. I’m not the biggest fan of his association with the Club but whatever, let’s see what he does with it. Say what you will about Cody’s post-WWE jaunts through the indie fields, there’s no doubt he’s got all the goods to be a main event player and maybe this little trip to Japan is the kind of burning spirit quest Rhodes needs in order to be at the top of his game. Alright, now you can say what you want about Juice Robinson…he’s trying. Prediction: “The American Nightmare” Cody Rhodes
Rich Kraetsch: There’s no better matchup for Cody’s NJPW debut than Juice Robinson. Juice will do everything in his power to make Cody look like a million bucks. The ball will solely be in Cody’s court to not only show he has the in-ring chops for New Japan but also have a connection to the crowd. If he comes out to crickets and has just an “okay” match, this may be his last appearance with the company. If he kills it, well, good for him. A number of people take issue with Cody being on the card at all and while I get it… the alternative is Cody is a prominent match, perhaps even battling Shibata for the NEVER Openweight Title. Count your blessings. Prediction: Cody
ROH World Title Match
Kyle O’Reilly (c) vs. Adam Cole
John Carroll: This match will have the same problem as the Jr. Tag title match in that it will probably be technically good, maybe even great, but should struggle to get any crowd heat in the Tokyo Dome. I get why both sides do this- ROH to say their World title is being defended in front of a 25-30k crowd in Tokyo, NJPW to show off their international connections and add another title match to their undercard- but both sides may want to rethink it in the future, because there’s some big negatives here too. If you’re ROH, does it really make sense to put your World title sixth from the top in a heatless match? Does that really make your promotion or your workers look world class? Or does it just reinforce your perception as New Japan’s cute little US affiliate (at a time when it looks like they’re getting ready to run US shows with you, to boot)? With all that said though, this is probably the first match on the card since the opener that I’m really looking forward to. Both men work hard and usually have good matches with each other and there’s real intrigue here on who might win given the weird contract situations surrounding both. I think O’Reilly ultimately retains even if he’s leaving because I’m not really sure what good it does to just put the belt right back on Cole if he’s leaving in April too (and I’m assuming Kyle would still be willing to drop the ROH title before he takes off for the Largo loop), but a Cole win definitely feels more possible here than it probably would otherwise, which adds to the match for sure. Prediction: Kyle O’Reilly
Brennan Patrick: I don’t have any real concerns about this match not delivering but I don’t have any expectations either. I’ve enjoyed O’Reilly in New Japan. He brings his American strong-style and it translates well for the most part, especially in his juniors work with KUSHIDA and his title challenge against Shibata. I think he’s teetered fully into heavyweight territory now and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him participate in this year’s G1 Climax…that is, if he doesn’t join the Extended Universe, which seem to be the rumblings. I’ve seen very little of Adam Cole wrestle period so I’m more curious about this match than anything else. But if they’re trying to keep the Club relevant, a Cole win could keep the merchandising extension alive. Coin flip. Prediction: Kyle O’Reilly
Rich Kraetsch: More than just between the ropes, this match has wide-reaching business implications that could have a huge effect on a number of companies both in Japan and abroad. As of this writing, Kyle O’Reilly still hasn’t signed a new contract with Ring of Honor. That’s huge. Whether everyone is waiting until after a win here to announce it or not, there’s a lot of smoke and it’s hard to ignore. If O’Reilly does indeed win, we’ll know that he’s agreed to some type of deal with ROH. If he loses we’ll likely know his future plans aren’t with ROH. How this affects O’Reilly’s New Japan bookings or Bobby Fish’s career remains to be seen. There are so many moving parts to this match and we haven’t even discussed the actual match which should be REALLY good. This is a Final Battle main event in the midcard of Wrestle Kingdom, let’s not lose sight of that. Prediction: Adam Cole
IWGP Tag Team Title Three Way Match
Guerrillas Of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c) vs. CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) vs. Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma)
John Carroll: I’m sorry if it feels like I’m being negative a lot in this preview, this should be the last match for a while where I have much to complain about, but: WHY THE HELL ARE ISHII AND YANO IN THIS DAMN THING. Makabe spoke for pretty much the entire fanbase when he pointed out that he and Honma just won a damn entire tag league (pinning GoD themselves in the final no less!) that we spent the better part of a month going through to get this shot, but Yano & Ishii (a team that wasn’t even in the league at all because Yano was still in NOAH as ½ of the GHC Tag Team Champions at the time!) just show up and backdoor their way into the match because Yano stole the title belts?! Uh, okay. So why doesn’t everyone on the roster just constantly steal everyone else’s belts, if that’s all it takes to get added to a title match on the biggest show of the entire friggin’ year?? I’m sorry, this is exactly the kind of “whatever, who cares, it’s just wrestling it doesn’t have to make sense” booking that I stopped watching WWE to avoid, so I would be extremely remiss if I didn’t call it out when it happened here. C’mon, Gedo. Don’t be lazy like this. You’ve pulled this garbage with the junior tag titles and the junior tag tournament before too, and it’d really be nice if you booked these tag divisions like you gave even the tiniest of craps.
Anyway, as far as the match itself goes, I dunno, it might be okay if they keep Yano out of it as much as possible. On top of how adding them made no sense it was also just awful timing because GoD and GBH were coming off an almost shockingly great finals in the tag league; if they had wrestled a match more like their bathroom break special at Invasion Attack perhaps the Yano/Ishii addition wouldn’t feel like quite such an infuriating invasion, but GoD has clearly come a long way since then. So we’re ruining what was looking like a promising rematch of a really good match to shoehorn Yano onto the card, because ???. I’m just gonna go ahead and predict them to win, because why not at this point. Prediction: Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii
Brennan Patrick: Yano returns from the land of NOAH, steals the tag titles, and inserts himself into a title match at Wrestle Kingdom. Teaming him with Ishii kind of screws the pooch for CHAOS in the NEVER Openweight Six Man titles, and turning this into a three way diminishes the chances of it being anything but a shenanigans-heavy match. I don’t even know if giving them the titles makes sense but it lets Ishii recharge and rest his neck for a while and keeps Yano shrugging for the camera. My expectations aren’t high so I won’t be disappointed with the result. Prediction: CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano)
Rich Kraetsch: Bleh. I was really looking forward to GOD and GBH going at it again on the big stage… now I have to deal with Yano ripping off the turnbuckle pad and doing his RVD cosplay gimmick? C’mon! There’s no reason for Ishii and Yano to be in this match other than the fallout of NOAH/NJPW relationship and them needing a place for Yano. Actually, I wish that was just it. As we discussed on the VOW Flagship preview last week if you simply needed a spot for Yano, you’d throw him in the Rambo or give him a random team for the NEVER Openweight Six-Mans. That Yano was inserted into this match means he’s probably winning. That’s great for Ishii but I fear him getting dragged down by the wrought, played out antics of Yano. Oh, btw, remember a month ago when GoD and GBH had like an all-time great tag match and we were going to get a rematch here in front of a hot Tokyo Dome crowd? Yeah, that was cool, wasn’t it? Prediction: CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano)
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title Match
KUSHIDA (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi
John Carroll: Alright, here’s where we kick it out of the midcard doldrums and really get this show into high gear with as big of a junior heavyweight title match as we’ve seen all year long. KUSHIDA had about as strong of a year as junior ace as you can possibly have, holding the title for nearly the entire year (minus the month that BUSHI had it before he took it right back) and winning the Super J Cup to boot. He’s as firmly enshrined in the junior ace position as anyone in recent memory. On the other side, Hiromu’s return from excursion was built up for months as the TIME BOMB, something he well deserved after his runaway success in CMLL (and his short but decent ROH stint). The fans who whined that they were taking too long to bring Kamaitachi back should eat some crow now, because they were clearly saving him all along for exactly this: the established junior ace versus the freshest of challengers at the Tokyo Dome. Honestly, you could make a strong argument this is the best built match on the entire show. I’m pumped for it and I think it could be an instant classic. The right move is having Hiromu win and letting KUSHIDA chase him for a while, so let’s go ahead and predict that. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi
Brennan Patrick: Now this…my expectations are significantly higher. KUSHIDA had a red-hot first half of 2016 but fizzled a little heading toward the New Year. When he’s on, he’s my favorite junior heavyweight to watch in New Japan. Takahashi’s return to New Japan was inevitable but it’s a welcome addition to the stagnant junior heavyweight division. He killed it last year as Kamaitachi I in his match with Dragon Lee at Fantastica Mania and if he can bring that same energy and fire to this match, with the right touch of LIJ sleaze, this could be one of the best matches of the night. Instead of trying to keep up with Hiromu, KUSHIDA may take the brainy approach and flip the “Arm Killer” switch, trying to subdue the ticking time bomb on the ground. The end result could go either way but I’m leaning a little more left toward Takahashi. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi
Rich Kraetsch: HYPE! If you saw what Kamaitachi did in Mexico or at Fantastica Mania in January, you’ll understand why so many people are salivating over this match. Provided KUSHIDA shakes off the rust from a mediocre second half of 2016 this could be an all-time great junior match. The key, as it is with most Los Ingobernables matches, is avoiding interference. If the match develops into BUSHI spraying mist, EVIL hitting KUSHIDA with chairs and the other overdone stable run-in crap, it’ll really drag the match down for me. If (yeah, it’s a big if, I know) they keep this a clean one-on-one match, we could have magic. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi
NEVER Openweight Title Match
Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Hirooki Goto
John Carroll: When the NOAH relationship got torpedoed it almost certainly took out a planned Shibata-Go Shiozaki title match with it here, but I’ll give New Japan credit for pulling out a hell of a Plan B. They’ve stayed away from this match long enough now that it feels relatively fresh again, and there was a very easy storyline here that they immediately ran with. If you haven’t checked out the Shibata and Goto promo translations on Twitter you really should, because it will make you that much more excited for this match. Shibata questioning why the hell Goto just abandoned their team to join CHAOS and just what Goto is doing with his life in general was very easily countered by Goto’s “hey, you abandoned the whole damn company, bro” retort, and the whole back-and-forth was just immensely fun to read. When they do finally get into the ring together you’re going to see an incredibly physical battle, just like their previous series that people largely seemed to love. I would have Shibata retain here personally, but this is yet another match I could see going either way, which is one of the things that makes the top end of this card so intriguing. Prediction: Katsuyori Shibata
Brennan Patrick: Hirooki Goto needs something to do. Shibata doesn’t need the NEVER Openweight Title any longer. Solution? Let them bust their heads and butts for the fans at Wrestle Kingdom, give Goto a sense of purpose (and the belt), and let him be a badass in the NEVER Openweight division for a while. I’m totally down for Goto taking his frustrations out in hard-hitting title matches. New Japan has no other choice but to pull the trigger on Shibata in 2017. He’s earned the respect of the fans, his peers, the NJ Dads, and he stood up for the company he abandoned for the one he waltzed into back in 2005. Last year was a career-defining year for Shibata and I think he’s shown more than ever now that he’s ready to be the guy, not only in New Japan, but anywhere he goes. Prediction: Hirooki Goto
Rich Kraetsch: One of the great missed opportunities for this Tokyo Dome show is the lost Go Shiozaki vs. Katsuyori Shibata NOAH vs. NJPW NEVER Openweight Title match. A beautifully crafted, realistic story between two ass kickers wanting to represent their company. That would’ve easily been my most anticipated match of the night. Alas, NOAH was sold and the relationship between the two companies cratered. In it’s place a redux of a feud from 2013. On its face, the match doesn’t have much juice but the promos these two have cut in the weeks leading up have me super hyped. Yeah, these guys USED to be tag partners but the verbal jabs being directed at one another let us know that’s definitely in the past. Shibata is pissed Goto joined CHAOS, Goto is still kinda pissed that Shibata left NJPW all those years ago, Shibata makes fun of Goto saying he’s reinventing himself, Goto thinks Shibata is boring and they should settle it be “beating the piss out of each other” FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT Prediction: Katsuyori Shibata
IWGP Intercontinental Title Match
Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
John Carroll: To really understand this match and why it’s going to likely be something very special you need to understand the pre-LIJ history of Tetsuya Naito. You need to understand how the Stardust Genius came back from CMLL in the “Tanahashi’s successor” spot, the babyface generational rival to the then-heel Kazuchika Okada. NJPW could not possibly have been any more clear about this than when they put Naito over Tanahashi himself in the finals of the 2013 G1 Climax, clearly meaning for it to be Naito’s moment of ascension past Tanahashi. But wrestling isn’t always such a simple straight line, and there’s an audience that sometimes gets in the way. In this case, they clearly did not accept Naito as either Tanahashi’s successor or a legitimate rival to Okada, and you should all know what happened next: Naito-Okada was put up against the latest chapter of Nakamura-Tanahashi (for this very Intercontinental Title, in fact) in a fan vote to decide the Wrestle Kingdom ‘14 main event, and the fans of course overwhelmingly picked Nak and Tana to go on last. Naito was firmly rejected and ultimately lost his IWGP title challenge against Okada, in a very good semi main event. Tanahashi himself maybe didn’t help matters when he openly questioned Naito’s post-victory promos, criticizing him as sounding weak and indecisive.
Well, fast forward to January 4th, 2017, and if there’s one word you can use to describe for Naito, “indecisive” surely isn’t it. On one side of the ring will be the 2016 Tokyo Sports MVP, the reigning Intercontinental Champion who also briefly held the IWGP Heavyweight title for the first time in his career this past year. On the other side will be Tanahashi, a legend whose time in this kind of spotlight is clearly running out. These two were having really great matches together long before this so there’s no doubt they can deliver one more time. Once again, there’s legitimate intrigue in the result too: I think Naito definitely should win but I’m not at all confident they’re willing to job Tanahashi in two straight years at the Dome. With a gun to my head right now I would give a slight edge to Tana, but either way this should be an absolutely fantastic match. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi
Brennan Patrick: Naito doesn’t need the IC title but Tanahashi doesn’t really, either. I know the kind of match this is going to be and I’m looking forward to it wholeheartedly. As much as Shibata is ready to grow to New Japan manhood, Naito is the man right now, and I think Naito vs. Omega is a feud worth milking. Shhhh, that’s not to say Omega is winning the IWGP Title match, I haven’t gotten there yet. But Naito is my favorite performer in New Japan right now, hands down. His scheming, his methodical limb-based attacks, the nonchalance, the facials, the arrogance. Naito’s the complete package. Whereas Bullet Club died with AJ Styles, LIJ is hot and only getting hotter. His focus needs to be on the IWGP Heavyweight Title so a loss here to the veteran ace doesn’t hurt his credibility and gives Tanahashi a vanity run. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi
Rich Kraetsch: The trajectory of these two men couldn’t have been any different in 2016. Tanahashi was on top of the world at the beginning of the year but a loss to Okada sent him spiraling down a path of irrelevance the likes of which we haven’t seen from New Japan’s ACE in years. On the flipside, Naito, still adjusting to his new persona reached unthinkable heights and became arguably NJPW’s biggest star in just a single calendar year. Now the two meet in a historic semi main event with wide-reaching implications. If Tanahashi loses, what does he become? What is he to this company? He’s made it very well known that 2016 was an aberration and he’s back for big things in 2017. What about Naito? Would he lose all his momentum with a loss here? Does he not practice what he preaches if he loses to Tanahashi in such a big spot? I’m fascinated by the result of the match and enthralled with what they can do in the ring. These two have had nice chemistry in the past and we know Tanahashi won’t slack off at the Tokyo Dome. This is going to be fun. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi
IWGP Heavyweight Title Match
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Kenny Omega
John Carroll: I will go on the record of being the resident 2016 Okada grump. I like Okada and I think he generally has good matches, but there are probably a good twenty or thirty guys in Japan I’m more excited to see on a consistent basis than him at this point. I do think what I call “Okada fatigue” is really setting in here, because he’s been at or near the top since basically the day he first returned to New Japan five years ago now. No, he wasn’t always IWGP champion, but usually the years he wasn’t he was winning the G1 and going into the Dome as challenger. Either way, this will be his fourth year of the past five Domes in the main event and his fifth straight year in the IWGP Heavyweight title match at the Dome, so while we’re not quite at Tanahashi levels yet (6 straight main events from 2011 to 2016, with only one not for the IWGP Heavyweight title) we’re getting closer and closer. That’s just a long time for one guy to be on top every year no matter who he is, you know? I give Okada credit for trying to change things up and add a little to his repertoire, but some of the criticisms of his wrestling style (his moves lack impact unless it’s a dropkick, reversal dances can feel excessive to an almost masturbatory level, etc.) are valid. With all that said I don’t doubt him as a draw or as a star, and I totally get why you would push a tall native in his 20s as hard as they do. But there’s really nothing wrong with letting him just semi main event one of these years again, I promise.
But for as routine as Okada in another Dome main event may feel, his opponent is at least as fresh as they come. Kenny Omega was the first gaijin in history to win the G1 Climax, the crown jewel of a very impressive year as the top heel in the company. His match with Tetsuya Naito on night 2 of the G1 was easily the NJPW Match of the Year in my opinion, a truly spectacular blend of action and storytelling. He blends his character into his ringwork as good as anyone in the business right now, and I honestly can’t wait to see what he does on Japan’s biggest possible stage.
With all of that said, I really don’t think he has a chance in hell of winning this. Having the native ace lose to the gaijin heel in the Dome main event generally isn’t the way NJPW does things (granted, there was the year Brock Lesnar beat Shinsuke Nakamura, so I guess there is technically a precedent…) and it seems almost impossible to me they would follow up Okada finally beating Tanahashi at the Dome last year with him losing the Dome main event a year later. Okada is winning this, and that’s okay. This match should still be spectacular and I think Kenny is still getting this title, maybe as soon as one of the New Beginning shows next month. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada
Brennan Patrick: “Kenny Omega doesn’t need the Club. The Club needs Kenny.” – me. Just now. I’ve been on the fence with Kenny for a few years now, and while I’m not a fan of his character-work in the Club, I’m completely sold on him as a wrestler. I watched and rewatched his G1 Climax match with Naito and loved it more the second time around. He busts his ass in the ring more than just about anybody else and I’m genuinely exciting to see what kind of match he brings out of Okada. I think Omega is the right choice. I think he wins this match cleanly by busting butt and wowing fans, earns the respect of Okada, and celebrates his victory with the yay-happy Club…only for Cody Rhodes to turn on him! Maybe. Probably not but the seeds will be planted and The American Nightmare will be the new leader of the Bullet Club in 2017 because a mega-babyface Omega vs. dastardly Naito feud is what everyone wants, right? Okada is the reliable ace so he can slip in and out of the title scene when it’s convenient but Omega is the hot ticket to ride. Prediction: Kenny Omega
Rich Kraetsch: My floor for this match is Match of the Year, my ceiling is greatest wrestling match and spectacle in history. Yeah, I’m excited. When Kenny Omega kicked AJ Styles out of the Bullet Club just under a year ago, his path was set for this exact moment, this exact match in this exact arena at this event. Everything he wanted to accomplish this year is wrapped up in this moment. Okada vanquished his demons at last year’s event finally putting Tanahashi in his rear view mirror and setting his sights on becoming the undisputed ace of the company. This match is so rich in layers, stories, subtly that anyone invested in either men’s story can’t help but be enthralled with the possibilities. Omega is as good a big match wrestler as there is and, honestly, if I had to pick a second it would probably be Okada. That’s why my hopes are so high. We’ve seen what Okada can do on the Wrestle Kingdom stage and if the G1 Climax semi and final is any indication, Omega will rise to occasion. You’d be hard pressed to find two smarter wrestlers in the world right now than these two. They are in the top percentile of thinking wrestlers often integrating past stories, past opponents and past moments into big matches. I’m really confident in saying as we close our NJPW World windows we’ll do so saying we’ve seen the greatest match in wrestling history. Prediction: Kenny Omega
Wrestle Kingdom 11 Coverage (VOW)
Join Voices of Wrestling for full coverage of NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11! We’ll be discussing the event as it happens on Twitter (@voiceswrestling), our forums (voicesofwrestling.com/forums) and will have a review up following the show at VoicesofWrestling.com. Also be on the lookout for our 2016 NJPW Year in Review eBook dropping in the next few days, the book features wrestler profiles, statistics, past reviews, essays and much more.