NJPW King of Pro-Wrestling 2017
October 9, 2017
Ryōgoku Kokugikan
City Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Meet our previewers:

August Baker: Reviewer and previewer of New Japan and WWE, award winning vintner, and is looking forward to October after a very mediocre September of wrestling. @augustbaker12 on the Twitter.

John Carroll: John hosts two podcasts (Open the Voice Gate & Wrestling Omakase), plus they’re pretty sure they’ve been on every single NJPW preview roundtable for something like a year now. Maybe more. They’d have to go back and count, which they don’t feel like doing. You can follow them on Twitter @toshanshuinla if you like wacky weeb-flavored garbage.

Rich Kraetsch: The face that runs the place, co-host of the Voices of Wrestling flagship podcast. Follow him and the activity at Voices of Wrestling on Twitter @VoicesWrestling.

Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Leo Tonga and Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi and SANADA)

August Baker: The first of several weird, random matches on the card. Bullet Club and LIJ have been mostly kept away from each other in the past. Omega and Naito have had two classic G1 matches, but there’s not much else to build on. Maybe this match starts to plant the seeds of a feud between the two factions for next year. With Bullet Club having a Young Lion on their team, they’re almost certainly taking the loss, but pay attention to who does what to who. It might matter in six months. Prediction: Los Ingobernables de Japon

John Carroll: This is a stronger than usual opener just given that it has only one young lion in it and it’s two units who don’t often go up against each other, as August already pointed out. I’m all for more BC-LIJ interactions, as it’s possibly the only unit combination that still feels remotely fresh (not surprising when you consider how long units like CHAOS & BC have been around). But yeah, obviously LIJ is winning here. Prediction: LIJ

Rich Kraetsch: In a company where unit battles seem to be done to death, somehow, someway LIJ and Bullet Club has been protected to a shocking degree. There have been only six tag match interactions between the stables this year with half being straight up tags during the G1 Climax and only one three-on-three six-man tags (the others were multi-team NEVER Openweight Six Man Title matches). Remarkable given how prominent both units are in the company. As a result, this match feels oddly fresh. The result is interesting as everyone is quick to choose LIJ as the winners with the lone young lion Leo Tonga on the Bullet Club side. But I’m not so sure. BUSHI is a junior and Tonga has obviously gone on a much different path than other young lions. While I still think LIJ is ultimately going to win, don’t be shocked if Bullet Club picks up the surprising win. Prediction: LIJ

CHAOS (Hirooki Goto and Toru Yano) vs. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki and Zack Sabre Jr.)

August Baker: If the opening match is a random match looking to the future, this is a random match looking to the past. With the CHAOS/SZG feud mostly over, there’s really no reason for this match. It looked like they were building to SZG/Taguchi Japan, especially Suzuki/Makabe, but now Makabe is randomly in a tag match later in the show. Since Yano got a win at the G1 over Suzuki, it makes sense he could challenge for the NEVER title with a win here, but Yano had a little feud with SANADA that saw no resolution. But now SANADA might fight Bullet Club… I’m talking myself in circles and giving me a headache. I just have to remember the golden mantra: In Gedo We Trust. Prediction: CHAOS

John Carroll: Hirooki Goto continues his tour of the bottom of the card that he’s been on since the Destruction tour, which just might be his regular spot for a while. Putting him up against Suzuki yet again isn’t exactly interesting either, but I imagine the real focus here is the never-ending Suzuki-Yano feud. Yano got a win over Suzuki back on the penultimate night of the G1 (don’t worry if you have no memory of that, they didn’t follow up on it at all since Suzuki went right into the Elgin feud the next night and Yano’s been busy getting tied into knots by SANADA), so this tag is probably setting up Yano-Suzuki for the NEVER title at Power Struggle. I love Toru Yano but even I can’t suggest setting him up as the next challenger does much for a title that feels as dead as ever this year. It’s the ultimate whatever undercard title defense, I guess, which pretty much sums up how I feel about this match as well: whatever. Prediction: CHAOS

Rich Kraetsch: Those new to NJPW may be intrigued by the teased Yano/Suzuki NEVER Title match that’s the focal point of this tag but if you were around beginning 2012, this is not something you need to see… ever again. In a two year period from August 2012 to July 2014, Yano and Suzuki had 8 (!) singles matches. For comparison’s sake, that’s one less than Okada/Tanahashi have had from February 2012 to the present. One of those is an all-time great series with two legendary wrestlers at the top of their game, the other is Suzuki and Yano. Please don’t do this to us again. Prediction: CHAOS

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
Funky Future (Ricochet and Ryusuke Taguchi) (c) vs. Roppongi 3K

August Baker: We still don’t know the identities of Roppongi 3K. I’m not even sure if Rocky Romero is wrestling, or just managing. No matter who it is though, this should be pretty great. Ricochet and Taguchi were highlights of the otherwise lackluster Destruction shows. And they have to be chomping at the bits to follow it up on a show that matters. This match could go either way depending on who the new guys are, but it’s always safe to bet on the Jr Tag titles changing hands. Prediction: Roppongi 3K

John Carroll: How am I supposed to preview a match when we don’t even know half the participants?! I guess Roppongi 3K are probably winning because it seems pretty weird to hype them up here just to have them lose, but who knows. Also what the hell does “Roppongi 3K” mean anyway, are they a television? Prediction: Roppongi 3K

Rich Kraetsch: Well this is a hard as well to predict because we don’t know who is in Roppongi 3k. What’s worse, it’s hard to even predict who it could or will be. Some have said it’s time for Yohei Komatsu and Sho Tanaka to come home as they’ve done nothing of note in Ring of Honor but they seem like an odd fit next to Rocky Romero. And shit, Romero may be in the team, we don’t even know if he’s managing or actually wrestling. I’m at a loss for other guesses right now so I guess there’s intrigue there but an impossible match to preview. Prediction: Funky Future

IWGP Tag Team Championship Elimination Match
Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr. and Lance Archer) (c) vs. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa) vs. War Machine (Hanson and Raymond Rowe)

August Baker: I’m not sure I can do this match again. They’re not bad, just pointless, and now I never want to see any combination of these teams in a match ever again. And I like all three teams! That’s how bad this is. I really think War Machine has a chance to be a headlining act for New Japan, but for the love of God please get more creative booking. Prediction: War Machine

John Carroll: When Rich first put this doc together he forgot the CRUCIAL DETAIL that the IWGP Tag Team title match is an elimination match, which obviously makes it completely different from the three that came before! No, in case your sarcasm detector is broken, this sucks. Fuck this match, fuck this division, and fuck you Gedo for not just killing these once-prestigious titles but desecrating their grave. Prediction: Who gives a shit

Rich Kraetsch: For the first time ever these three titans of tag team wrestle will battle in a New Japan Pro Wrestling ring. Can you even imagine how great this is going to be when KES, Guerrillas of Destiny and War Mach….oh, oh, it’s happened already? Three times on the last tour? Same match? Like, exactly the same? They didn’t swap any of the teams out? Literally the same match all three times? Nevermind. But seriously, this sucks because all three teams are capable of doing great work but it’s impossible to care about the match or the results. What a shame. Prediction: War Machine

Bullet Club (Cody, Kenny Omega and Marty Scurll) vs. CHAOS (Beretta, Jado and YOSHI-HASHI)

August Baker: Another weird match, but at least this one has the point of building to Omega’s title defense against YOSHI-HASHI. Normally when someone feuds with a faction, they start at the bottom and work their way up. Kenny Omega doesn’t do things normally. In fighting CHAOS, he started with the big guy, Okada, then down to Ishii, and now he’s worked himself all the way down to YOSHI. A pretty backwards way of doing things. At any rate, you have the ROH World Champion and a WrestleKingdom main eventer vs freaking Jado, so this one isn’t hard to pick. Prediction: Bullet Club

John Carroll: Oh boy, a Cody Rhodes appearance! And Marty Scurll too! Pinch me now! Look, I know I complain about Kenny Omega being kind of goofy and over the top sometimes (which he is), but next to Marty ‘my nickname is the Villain even though I never do anything particularly villainous or dislikable’ Scurll he’s doing ultra-subtle Jun Akiyama heel work. Marty just isn’t for me; I get why people like him but I don’t ever need to see him in New Japan again. Stick to ROH which I can comfortably ignore and feel I’m missing absolutely nothing, and the British indies which I know I should probably watch but never actually get around to, thanks. Throw in the **-and-a-quarter-star special ROH champion, the guy who resulted in the largest simultaneous groan in Chicago history when he was announced as Omega’s opponent, and the worst booker on planet earth, and boy is there a lot of “who gives a shit” here. Beretta is cool though! Prediction: Bullet Club

Rich Kraetsch: Hey, look, in a week I get to see Kenny Omega defend his United States Championship live in Chicago against YOSHI-HASHI. I want Kenny as healthy as possible for that night so I’m all on board with silly rainbow pants Omega sitting on the apron and dancing around for this entire match. This has all the makings of being the worst match on an otherwise awesome lineup. Prediction: Bullet Club

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
KUSHIDA (c) vs. Will Ospreay

August Baker: While I recognize that KUSHIDA is an incredible professional wrestler, his character bores me to tears. The only time this isn’t the case is when he gets personal. At times, he flips a switch, starts to act more aggressively, puts some extra juice into his strikes and submissions, and becomes one of my favorites guys to watch. I don’t think we’re getting that KUSHIDA here though. This will probably be a spectacular match that I just won’t care very much about twenty seconds later. The real intrigue comes from what’s next. Could we be setting up a Triple Threat at the Dome? Or is this Will Ospreay’s last New Japan hurrah? Prediction: Will Ospreay

John Carroll: Joe Lanza already did a wonderful job breaking down how stupid the booking here is on the last VOW flagship podcast, so let me just take this opportunity to agree with him wholeheartedly. Ospreay failing up into his seven thousandth title shot against KUSHIDA is dumb, and I’m also extremely tired of the “okay, who’s the first guy on the ramp!” junior title shot meme. Again: if all it takes to earn a shot at the IWGP junior heavyweight title, the most prestigious title for an entire division of dudes, is showing up on the ramp first, why the fuck are they not all shoving each other out of the way to do it on every single show?? At least Hiromu tried to get in Will’s way last time, I guess, so that’s something. But where the hell is everyone else?! Anyway, booking stupidity aside, this match has owned in the past and I’m sure it will own again. KUSHIDA is the exact right opponent for someone like Young William, both because (I assume) he provides a strong match structure and his more ground-based/technical approach to junior wrestling is a great counterweight to Ospreay’s flips and dives. They have great chemistry together and I’m expecting nothing short of another awesome match here. Hopefully Will finally gets his big win and we transition to Ospreay-Hiromu next. Prediction: Will Ospreay

Rich Kraetsch: The story of this match is simple: Will Ospreay can’t beat KUSHIDA. He couldn’t beat him when the first met at Invasion Attack 2016, he couldn’t beat him two months later at Dominion, Ospreay fell in the finals of the Best of the Super Juniors tournament earlier this year. And hell, the losing streak even extended to England when Ospreay lost to KUSHIDA in WCPW’s Pro Wrestling World Cup Finals. 0-4. Ospreay wants to break that streak. The issue is, he’s getting a title shot when there’s really no reason for him to get one. The story itself is really good, it’s simple, classic pro wrestling: Wrestler A can’t beat Wrestler B so when he finally does it’ll be a big deal. The problem, though, is the story is severely lacking a connecting point. Ospreay just, kinda, challenged KUSHIDA. KUSHIDA, gracious as he is, accepted it but he could have easily said buzz off, I beat you four times already. NJPW needed something more to add juice to this match. Complaints aside, these dudes are fucking great wrestlers and their previous four matches have been incredible so I expect much of the same here. We may eyeroll the story and the build but when the match is over, most of that will be forgotten and replaced with praise for these guy’s amazing work. Prediction: Will Ospreay

Hiroshi Tanahashi and Togi Makabe vs. Juice Robinson and Kota Ibushi

August Baker: Another strange match. Tanahashi vs Ibushi is a big time match for Power Struggle, but Makabe and Juice are just kind of there. They have no plans, they’re not going to be feuding after this. Heck, it wouldn’t surprise me to see these two teaming up again soon enough in Taguchi Japan. I’m going with a bit of an underdog pick here. If Makabe isn’t challenging Suzuki (see my rant above), he might as well take a pinfall. Prediction: Juice Robinson and Kota Ibushi

John Carroll: Another hype match for what is presumably the Power Struggle main event; Tanahashi-Ibushi is a stronger than usual IC Title match and thus I never thought for a second it was going to be on this show, because why waste that bullet here if you don’t need to? As far as the tag here goes, it’s whatever. Tanahashi & Makabe are a weird little team, and Juice is here to bump his ass off and then get pinned. It’ll probably be pretty decent, I guess. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi & Togi Makabe

Rich Kraetsch: Most of us pegged the big Tanahashi/Ibushi singles match as taking place on this show but really, when you look at the rest of the card, it’s not needed. Save it for Power Struggle or keep it in your back pocket for a show that really needs it. This match will serve simply as a buffer between the other big-time title matches on this show and preview Ibushi/Tanahashi whenever it does go down. I’ll be interested in seeing how the crowd reacts to Juice Robinson fresh off the biggest match of his career at Destruction in Kobe. I’ll also be looking to see who will put the least amount of effort into this match: Tanahashi or Makabe. These are two of the all-time greats at coasting through tag matches with Makabe being a legend in the field. One of these two will have to put SOME effort in… right? Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi & Togi Makabe

Tokyo Dome IWGP Heavyweight Championship challenge rights certificate
Tetsuya Naito vs. Tomohiro Ishii

August Baker: The final two matches of King of Pro-Wrestling suffer from the same problem: They are both predictable. The Tokyo Dome match is going to Okada vs Naito. That’s it. Only one or two other wrestlers could even threaten to be in that main event, and Ishii isn’t one of them. But that advantage this match has over the main event is Tomohiro Ishii is the best wrestler in the world at making you think he can win a match he has no business winning. The man is an artist. At some point, Ishii will kick out of Destino, or hit some ridiculous top-rope brainbuster, and I will leap out of my seat in the belief that he’s actually going to win this match. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

John Carroll: What is there left to say about Tetsuya Naito and Tomohiro Ishii? The two have literally never had even close to a bad match together. They’re such great opponents that they last had an awesome, ****¼ match during the G1, and people almost universally agreed it was disappointing. When that’s your floor, needless to say your ceiling is pretty damn high. It felt like they were saving something or just holding back a little in that aforementioned G1 match, and now it’s pretty clear why in hindsight: they knew they were going to be wrestling each other again in a couple months on the semi-main of an even bigger show. Expect them to go all out here and top their awesome matches from the G1 and the US title tournament this year, putting on something more along the lines of their even better older matches (personally my favorite one is still the Naito victory in the 2016 New Japan Cup, but I would hear arguments for any of their 2014 NEVER title matches or the 2016 IWGP Heavyweight title match as well!). I’m pumped as hell for this one, as the best wrestler on the planet and one of the best should have nothing less than another classic. It doesn’t even matter that Ishii has no chance here: I guarantee you these two will work at least one nearfall that has the entire Sumo Hall convinced Ishii is about to win and go on to the Tokyo Dome main event. God bless the pro wrestling. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

Rich Kraetsch: During a three-month period in early 2014, these two lit the wrestling world on fire with three incredible singles matches, each time finding new and unique ways to top what they did in the match prior. Those matches, in large part, revitalized Naito’s career after his lackluster G1 in 2013 and the infamous “voted out of the main event” incident at Wrestle Kingdom. Ishii, legit one of the best workers of this generation, was able to get Naito back on the right path and he really hasn’t looked back since. Since April 2014, these two have met an additional four times and each fucking rocked. It’s impossible for these guys to have a bad match. Shit, it’s seemingly impossible for these guys to do worse than ****. That’s probably our baseline here. The main event may have more importance given the IWGP Heavyweight Title on the line but Okada/EVIL have almost zero chance of following up another Ishii/Naito classic. I can’t wait. And the best part? Nobody in the world believes Ishii is going to win and they shouldn’t, he’s not going to. We know he’s not. Still, we’ll be biting on each and every nearfall and the Ishii vortex I’ve written about in prior reviews and previews will have the entire Sumo Hall crowd sucked in. They know he’s not winning…but what if…maybe…? Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. EVIL

August Baker: What an opportunity for EVIL. Not to win the match obviously, we all know that’s not happening, but to make himself a made man in New Japan. This year we’ve seen Kenny Omega and Katsuyori Shibata take that step in not just main eventing a major show, but putting on such unforgettable performances that they are ensured a spot in the main event at any time. Will EVIL be able to take that leap? After this match, will I be left in awe of the physical performance like after Okada/Omega? Will I be left stunned, certain I just watched one of my favorite matches ever like after Okada/Shibata? I don’t see a match with EVIL reaching that level, but I would love to be wrong. It’s been almost two months since Okada as put on a generation-defining performance, so you know he’s going to take this match as high as he can. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada

John Carroll: Look, first things first: I’m so happy for EVIL. I first saw him working super hard in a completely nothing undercard role during the NJPW/ROH shows in 2015 (putting on a legitimately awesome match with Adam Page, not always the easiest thing to do), and here he is now main eventing Sumo Hall for the IWGP Heavyweight Title. That’s legitimately cool as hell. I hope the show draws okay, and I have pretty strong confidence it will just because of the combination of NJPW’s own momentum, Okada & Naito’s momentum as draws (Naito-Ishii is an awesome semi-main to have here), and the strength of the Japanese wrestling scene (and Japanese economy in general) in 2017. But even if this ends up not selling out or coming close, NJPW can absorb that blow after the year they’ve had, and even in that case I think it was a great idea to give EVIL this spot and establish him as a guy who can main event a show this big. Once you’ve worked your first Sumo Hall main event, that’s really something they can’t ever take away from you, and they’ll be able to go back to EVIL again in the future. Anyway, as for the match itself this is going to have a hard time following what I think will be a Naito-Ishii classic, but their interactions in the past month+ have been really good and I think they can put on a really good match here. Even if it ends up being second or third best match of the night (KUSHIDA-Ospreay will probably be extremely good as well), that’s nothing to be ashamed of on a card like this. As you can probably see from reading this preview, this is an extremely top-heavy card with only three matches that really matter, but those three matches all have the potential to be absolute bangers. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada

Rich Kraetsch: The talk of NJPW not creating new stars and only relying on their old guard has thankfully subsided in recent months and for good reason. This year alone guys like Juice Robinson, EVIL, Michael Elgin and many more have ascended to the main event ranks and been presented as legitimate main event talents. They may not live on the top of the card but being able to create convincing one-off or part-time main eventers is just as important as creating a handful of transcendent stars. EVIL, like Ishii, has no chance of winning but this is about more than that. This is about one of their homegrown talents, the former Takaaki Watanabe, wrestling in the main event at Sumo Hall a little over six years after his debut (NJPW Life Goes On! May 2011 versus fellow lion young Hiromu Takahashi!). EVIL had a downright embarrassing excursion in New Jersey and later Ring of Honor but pushed through and worked his ass off. Now, he’s main eventing a Sumo Hall show for the company’s top title. That he’ll be staring at the lights when it’s over should be ignored. This is a tremendous accomplishment for EVIL and NJPW. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada