Welcome to KB’s Old School (and New School) Reviews. I’ve been reviewing wrestling shows for over twelve years now and have reviewed over 6,000 shows. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I’ll be posting a new review here on Wrestlingrumors.net. It could be anything from modern WWE to old school to indies to anything in between. Note that I rate using letters instead of stars and I don’t rate matches under three minutes as really, how good or bad can something that short be?
Wrestle Kingdom XVII
Date: January 4, 2023
Location: Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan
Commentators: Kevin Kelly, Chris Charlton, Gino Gambino
It’s time to go back to New Japan for a promotion that I have not looked at since last year’s Wrestle Kingdom. As tends to be the case with this show, I’m coming in mostly blind, save for knowing the wrestlers involved. The main event is Jay White defending the IWGP World Title against Kazuchika Okada, who he took the title from back in June. Let’s get to it.
Pre-Show: Boltin Oleg vs. Ryohei Oiwa
This is a three minute exhibition and Oleg, an amateur champion, is making his debut. They go with the grappling to start and Oleg powers him down, followed by some over the shoulder armdrags. Oiwa cranks on the arm and an armbreaker sends Oleg to the rope. Back up and Oleg grabs a slam as we go to the draw at 3:02.
Rating: C. Even commentary was saying “this is meant to go to a draw” so it is kind of the definition of getting your feet wet. I’m fine with something like this as nothing more than a warmup as Oleg seems to have some name recognition based on his amateur credentials. It’s three minutes, it came and went, no one pretended it mattered. That’s an easy way to start the night.
Pre-Show: New Japan Ranbo
This is the Royal Rumble (minute long intervals, pin/submission/over the top eliminations), with the final four moving on to a match at New Year’s Dash to crown this year’s Provisional King Of Pro Wrestling Champion. Sho is in at #1 and Hikuleo is in at #2, leaving Sho looking nervous. The forearms have little effect on Hikuleo so Show bails to the floor for some regrouping.
Evil (with Dick Togo) is in at #3, meaning Hikuleo gets to beat up two people instead of one. Tomohiro Ishii is in at #4 and stares down Hikuleo before helping Evil beat him down. Great-O-Khan is in at #5 and takes his sweet time getting to the ring as Ishii and Hikuleo fight. With Khan taking forever to get in, Douki is in at #6 and helps clear the ring without eliminating anyone.
Evil and Togo try to get rid of Ishii but Rocky Romero is in at #7 for the save. Romero gets rid of Evil and the Forever Lariats have Sho in trouble. Kenta is in at #8 and gets in a brawl with Ishii until Yoshinobu Kanemaru is in at #9. With more brawling ensuing, Aaron Henare (he’s big) is in at #10 and slugs it out with Ishii to limited avail. Ryusuke Taguchi is in at #11 and helps Henare get rid of Ishii.
Taguchi and Romero (former team) go after Henare but Jeff Cobb is in at #12 as Hikuleo gets rid of Douki and Kanemaru. Shane Haste is in at #13, with Romero countering his powerbomb attempt. Mikey Nicholls (Haste’s partner) is in at #14 and Romero is out fast. Haste and Nicholls (The Mighty Don’t Kneel) double team Taguchi for the pin as Yujiro Takahashi is in at #15.
Cobb whips Khan into Hikuleo, who gets clotheslined out as a result. Toru Yano (who has dominated a lot of this title’s history) is in at #16 as Cobb is tossed as well. There goes Haste, followed by Nicholls, leaving Khan and Henare to stand tall. El Phantasmo is in at #17 and starts raking backs (as the Dermis Destroyer). A nipple twist (yep) gets rid of Henare and it’s Taichi in at #18.
Everyone but Taichi (including some eliminated names) fight on the floor and it’s Shingo Takagi (last year’s champion who reportedly doesn’t want to be here) in to go after Taichi. I believe (as there are a lot of people outside) that leaves us with Sho, Khan, Taguchi, Takahashi, Yano, Phantasmo, Taichi and Takagi as the final group (remember the final four advance).
A bunch of people get together to dump Taichi and there goes Takahashi. Phantasmo is knocked off the apron but lands on the barricade, where Kenta (who was apparently eliminated somewhere in there) and Takahashi help him back to the apron. Takagi joins him out there and Sho accidentally knocks Phantasmo out, meaning Khan, Takagi, Sho and Yano win to advance at 30:35.
Rating: C+. This is the Wrestle Kingdom “get everyone on the show” match and it still works. What amazes me every year is that this match always flies by and it did so again here, with thirty minutes feeling like it was less than half that. It’s a fun match that gives the fans something to cheer about while also setting up something for the future. That’s more than you get on most Kickoff Show style matches so well done.
A woman tells the fans to vote for something.
Pre-Show: Yuji Nagata/Satoshi Kojima/Togi Makabe vs. Tatsumi Fujinami/Minoru Suzuki/Tiger Mask
This is the Antonio Inoki Memorial Six Man Tag and Tiger Hattori is special referee for a real bonus. Nagata and Fujinami start things off with an exchange of wristlocks. That goes nowhere so Nagata shoulders him down, only to get dropped as well. Suzuki comes in to slug it out with Nagata.
Tiger Mask gets in a few kicks and it’s Nagata getting beaten down in the corner by a rotating cast. Nagata manages a suplex so Kojima can come in to chop Suzuki in the corner. This proves to be rather stupid as Suzuki glares at him and laughs at the idea of a forearm off. Tiger Mask comes in for the tiger driver and a near fall, only to get caught in the Kojicutter.
It’s off to Makabe as everything breaks down, with Nagata and company getting caught in stereo holds. All of those are broken up until Tiger Mask crucifixed Makabe for two. Suzuki catches Makabe on top so Tiger Mask tries a…something that doesn’t work, allowing Makabe to cradle him for the pin at 9:07.
Rating: C. Much like the other two matches, I don’t think this one was entirely meant to be taken seriously. This was much more about getting some legends in there for the sake of honoring the most important person the company has ever seen. That is completely understandable so soon after Inoki’s passing and the match was certainly watchable, if a bit formulaic.
Post match, Fujinami welcomes the fans to the show and honors Inoki.
We start with a tribute to Antonio Inoki, as you had to know was coming.
The opening video, if you can call it that, runs down the card, in order. As per tradition, I’m still not sure if I like that or not.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles: Catch 2/2 vs. LiYoh
Catch 2/2 (TJP/Francesco Akira), of the United Empire, is defending against Lio Rush/Yoh (who are an unlikely team that managed to win the Super Junior Tag League to get this shot). It’s a wild fight to start with Rush dropping TJP and taking Akira up the ramp, where Akira plants him face first on the steel ramp. Back in and Yoh fights them off for a bit, only to get caught in the wrong corner.
Akira hits a rope walk Tree of Woe dropkick to send Yoh outside, setting up Take A Picture (kind of a toss from the apron hip attack). The busted open Rush is picked up as TJP hits a Shinjiro Otani to Yoh but Rush cuts him off with a spear. Rush comes in off the tag and picks the pace way up, including the Tajiri handspring elbow to both champs. Suicide dives take out both of them again and it’s back to Yoh, whose superkick is cut off. Everything breaks down and everyone but TJP is knocked down.
Back up and a powerbomb/suplex combination drops Yoh but Rush makes the save with the Final Hour. The 3K (3D into a Downward Spiral) connects on Akira, only to have TJP come in with the Mamba Splash for the save. The Detonation Kick gets two on Yoh but the Leaning Tower is countered with a poisonrana. Another 3K gets another two but TJP is right back with a small package to pin Yoh and retain at 10:31.
Rating: B-. That’s a smart way to open the show as it was all energy and they didn’t bother wasting time with anything fancy. 2/2 is a good team and they did their thing here. Rush’s eye being busted open is what is going to be remembered here as it was a gusher, but other than that you had a ten minute match which I feel like I’ve seen several times before.
IWGP Women’s Title: Kairi vs. Tam Nakano
Kairi (formerly Sane) is defending and this is Stardom’s portion of the show. Kairi is in her pirate gear, complete with…Grim Reapers? They fight over a lockup to start until Nakano grabs a headlock. A basement dropkick puts Kairi down and Nakano gets to give her what might be described as a cute stare.
Back up and Kairi sends her into the corner for the sliding forearm but charges into a spinning kick to the face. With Kairi outside, Nakano hits a dive (left a bit low), followed by a Steiner Screwdriver for two back inside. That’s quite the kickout move less than five minutes in but Kairi is back up with a spinning backfist for two of her own. The Insane Elbow retains the title at 5:57.
Rating: C+. They went through this as fast as they could as they didn’t have much time here. Kairi is still rather good in the ring and I’ve heard good things about Nakano. The Screwdriver was weird and felt like something they were trying to squeeze in whether it fit there or not. For a fast match though and what I believe is the first women’s match ever at Wrestle Kingdom, it went well.
Post match the lights go out and Mercedes Mone (Sasha Banks) debuts, shocking….I’m sure there is someone there who didn’t know this was coming. Thankfully commentary acknowledges that it wasn’t a surprise as they have the staredown with Kairi holding the title in the air.
Mone pulls her into what looked like a Gory Stretch spun into a faceplant (or it might have been some kind of an armbar that didn’t go right). That leaves Mone to introduce herself as the CEO of the women’s division. She’s coming for the title in San Jose next month and you can bank on it. That was certainly a debut but it didn’t quite blow the roof off.
IWGP Tag Team Titles: Bishamon vs. FTR
Bishamon (Hirooki Goto/Yoshi-Hashi of Chaos) are challenging and commentary tells us about FTR’s travel issues getting here. Hashi shoulders Wheeler down to start so we’ll try Harwood vs. Goto instead. That doesn’t last long as Hashi comes back in for the double team, only to have it broken up just as fast.
The champs send them outside for a dive, setting up the PowerPlex for two on Goto. A powerbomb into a bridging dragon suplex gets two with Hashi making the save. The Big Rig is broken up though and Goto hits the fireman’s carry backbreaker for a breather. Harwood comes in off the blind tag and gets taken down with a running neckbreaker.
Bishamon’s Sho Tow (I think?) finisher is broken up and it’s a Big Rig for two on Goto. Wheeler and Hashi suplex each other to the floor, leaving Goto to fight out of a piledriver attempt. Another piledriver attempt works just fine, followed by the spike piledriver for two with Hashi making the save. Another Big Rig is broken up and it’s Sho Tow to Harwood for the pin and the titles at 10:05.
Rating: B-. And thus FTR’s downfall continues as they are now out of titles after holding a bunch of them for several months. The good thing is that they lost them in another solid match, which shouldn’t be a surprise in the slightest. Bishamon winning the titles is fine as commentary hyped them up as the best team in Japan. Give them the titles so FTR, who seem to be more guest stars than anything else, can head back to AEW and sit around some more.
TV Title: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Ren Narita
Tournament final for the inaugural title with a fifteen minute time limit, meaning a draw will require a rematch at a later date. They both fight for a cross armbreaker attempt to start before Sabre’s penalty kick misses, giving us a standoff. Narita kicks him down but Sabre is right back up with a twist of the arm.
A belly to belly gets Narita out of trouble for a few seconds but he can’t hook an abdominal stretch. They trade kicks to the back, with Narita sitting down so Sabre can hit his own. An exchange of kicks to the chest goes to Sabre but Narita goes after Sabre’s arm for a change and a double knockdown.
Back up and a bridging t-bone suplex gives Narita two but Sabre pulls him down by the leg. Sabre can’t get a triangle choke so Narita hits him in the face. They trade snap German suplexes but Narita misses a running spinwheel kick. Back to back German suplexes are no sold so they fight over another abdominal stretch, only to have Sabre switch to an armbar for the tap at 10:30.
Rating: C+. I wasn’t feeling this one very much as it was a lot of both guys doing the same thing and often popping up right after. Sabre is good at tormenting people with his holds but that wasn’t really on display here. Narita is someone who has come a long way in a short amount of time, but it wasn’t exactly an awesome showcase.
Post match the Mighty Don’t Kneel come out to offer Sabre a spot on the team and the shirt goes on.
Never Openweight Title: Karl Anderson vs. Tama Tonga
Tonga, with Jado, is challenging and gets decked before the bell. Anderson drops him on the barricade and throws him over before going back inside to pose a bit. The Burner (Rikishi) Driver on the ramp knocks Tonga silly again, leaving Anderson to chant his own name. Tonga blocks a Gun Stun on the ramp though and they fight to the apron for a slugout.
They slug it out on the apron with Tonga getting the better of things before hammering away in the corner. A charge misses though and Anderson hits the HI YAH kick. They head up top with Tonga knocking him down, setting up a top rope clothesline. Supreme Flow gives Tonga two and they run the ropes, only to have Anderson’s Gun Stun blocked. A middle rope Gun Stun to Anderson sets up a regular one (with Tonga slipping off, making it look like Anderson shoved him off) to give Tonga the pin and the title at 9:33.
Rating: C. This felt like a match that had a lot more history behind it and if that is the case, fair enough. Tonga winning makes sense as Anderson is in WWE full time so put the title on someone who is going to be around. Good enough match here, but that ending didn’t exactly do it any favors.
Keiji Muto/Hiroshi Tanahashi/Shota Umino vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon
This is Muto’s (Great Muta, but in normal form) final New Japan match. Muto and Sanada start things off with a teased Too Sweet but Sanada takes out the bad knee. A springboard dropkick takes Muto down again, only to have Muto grab a backsplash. The moonsault is loaded up but Tanahashi calls Muto off for the sake of his knees.
Instead Muto snapmares him down and hits the Power Drive elbow. Tanahashi comes in for the springboard spinning crossbody but Naito takes him down. A basement dropkick rocks Tanahashi again and we slow things down. Bushi’s neckbreaker gets two but Tanahashi gets in a dragon screw legwhip on Naito. That’s enough for the tag off to Umino to pick the pace way up and clean house.
Everything breaks down and Los Ingobernables get caught in triple submissions but a rope break leads to the triple escape. Bushi missile dropkicks Umino and Bushiroonis (just go with it) up. Tanahashi comes back in with some Twists and Shouts, setting up Muto’s Shining Wizard on Bushi. Umino adds the Death Rider for the pin at 9:21.
Rating: C+. This was rather formula until the end when everything broke down and the good guys dominated, as they should. There was a grand total of no way that Muto’s team was going to lose in his last match in the promotion so the result was little more than waiting for the obvious ending than anything else. Giving Umino the pin was a nice moment and it isn’t like there is any shame in losing to Muto in his last match around here.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title: Hiromu Takahashi vs. Master Wato vs. El Desperado vs. Taiji Ishimori
Ishimori is defending and this is one fall to a finish. They start fast (I sense a theme beginning here) with Takahashi and Desperado running Wato over. An exchange of rollups give us a big standoff as we hear about a fight backstage, possibly involving Tetsuya Naito. Ishimori bails to the ramp for a breather and that’s not cool with everyone else, meaning the chase is on. That’s fine with Ishimori, as the fight breaks out on the ramp and Ishimori is the only one to get back inside unscathed.
Back in and Desperado goes after Ishimori’s knee but the other two make a save. Wato strikes away at Takahashi and sends him outside, meaning it’s time for the string of dives. Takahashi caps it off with a huge dive off the top to put everyone down before they all head back inside. A series of strikes leads to Desperado hitting something like a Blue Thunder Bomb on Ishimori.
Desperado punches Wato down and everyone is on the mat as we hear about Los Ingobernables getting in a backstage fight with the Kongoh stable of Pro Wrestling Noah (right before the New Japan vs. Noah show as luck would have it). The four way chop off is on until Takahashi and Desperado are sent outside. Wato kicks Ishimori down and goes up top, only to get pulled down in a Tower of Doom as Takahashi comes back in.
Desperado joins everyone else and goes after Takahashi, setting up an Angel’s Wings for two. Takahashi grabs the Time Bomb for two of his own but Wato is back in with a tiger suplex into a crucifix for two more as Ishimori pulls the ref. Back up and a SCARY German suplex gives Wato two on Takahashi, who is right back up with the Time Bomb II for the pin at 16:39.
Rating: B. They were flying through most of this and it didn’t feel nearly as long as it was, but there were quite a few times where they stopped, which stood out a bit. That being said, I’d call it more than acceptable when they were going that fast. All that being said, this is the fourth time Takahashi has won the belt at Wrestle Kingdom, to the point where I was actually thinking “Really? Again?” when he won here. Very good match, but maybe let someone else get this spot next time.
IWGP United States Title: Kenny Omega vs. Will Ospreay
Ospreay, with the United Empire, is defending and this is a pretty long time in the making. Don Callis joins commentary (great) as Ospreay headlocks him to the mat. Ospreay tries to pick up the pace but gets knocked off the apron, sending him hard into the barricade. Back in and Omega kicks him down and rips off a turnbuckle pad. Omega hits a hard backbreaker to cut Ospreay off again, only to have him come back with a hot shot.
A big boot and cutter drop Omega and a Phenomenal Forearm does it again. Ospreay kicks him to the apron for a strike off, only to miss the middle rope Oscutter. Omega puts a table on top of Ospreay on the floor and strikes away even more. That’s fine with Ospreay, who knocks him away and goes up top for a Sky Twister to drop Omega again. Back in and the Hidden Blade gives Ospreay two but he still can’t hit the Oscutter.
Omega is fine enough to grab the Snapdragon for two and they’re both a bit winded. Back up and Omega takes him up top but Ospreay flips out of the top rope dragon superplex. The Oscutter finally connects for two and there are some HARD Cheeky Nandos kicks to keep Omega in trouble. Ospreay goes up again but this time Omega DDTs him onto the exposed buckle, drawing a good deal of blood. There is blood all over the floor as Omega hits the Rise of the Terminator.
Ospreay is sent head first through the table (leaving a big hole in the middle) before the beating continues back inside. There’s the Snapdragon into a V Trigger, with Callis complaining about a slow near fall. Omega goes up top but Ospreay stumbles into the ropes to crotch him down. Ospreay goes up as well but gets dropped face first into the buckle again (ouch).
Another V Trigger looks to set up a super One Winged Angel. Since that would, you know, kill Ospreay, it’s a super German suplex instead. Another V Trigger seems to wake Ospreay up as he strikes away, including a big shot to drop Omega. The Hidden Blade gets two on Omega, followed by a Styles Clash for the same. Another Hidden Blade misses and they strike each other down while holding wrists. More strikes set up a V Trigger and the One Winged Angel to give Omega the pin and the title at 34:38.
Rating: A-. This was a different match than I was expecting as they didn’t go as nuts with the flying and instead focused on the hard hitting fight. Omega is a lot easier to watch around here, as he goes a lot more serious and actually feels like he is having a match instead of a performance, making it that much better. Ospreay got in some of his high flying to go with the strikes, but that blood is what is going to be remembered. Heck of a match here and it felt worthy of Wrestle Kingdom.
We recap Kazuchika Okada challenging Jay White for the IWGP World Title. White took the title from him last year and now Okada wants it back. Game on.
IWGP World Heavyweight Title: Jay White vs. Kazuchika Okada
White, with Gedo, is defending and Rocky Romero is on commentary. They glare at each other to start until Okada shrugs off a chop. Okada takes him down but Gedo pulls White away from a running something. White gets in a shot of his own though and we hit the chinlock. A DDT gives White two and he drives Okada into the barricade for two, which he shouts over and over again.
After some chops, he adds a SWEET, only to have Okada come back with a DDT of his own. Okada grabs a flapjack and dropkicks White off the top to send him outside. Back in and a missile dropkick sets up the Money Clip, which is broken up just as fast. White is back with a swinging suplex, leaving commentary thinking White wants the fans to cheer him. The chinlock goes on before White goes after the knee for a change.
The knee is fine enough for Okada to hit his dropkick though, followed by the spinning Tombstone. White is sent outside for a top rope flip dive but he’s smart/beaten up enough to drop to the ground before the Rainmaker. Okada tries it again but this time White spits in his face, setting up a swinging Rock Bottom to put Okada down for a change. Back up and Okada grabs the arm for back to back clotheslines, only to have the Rainmaker countered into the Blade Runner.
Another Blade Runner is blocked so White hits his own standing clotheslines. Now it’s White doing the Rainmaker pose, allowing Okada to hit the real thing for a close two. White wins a strike out and says Okada isn’t taking this from him. They slug it out until Okada hits his own Blade Runner, followed by a Cobra Flosion. The Rainmaker gives Okada the title back at 33:04.
Rating: A-. Another very good match as White continues to feel like a star. Then you have Okada who is….well he’s Okada, and that is about all you need to say about him. This didn’t quite hit the top level that some Wrestle Kingdom main events have reached in the past, but I’ll take a near classic to close out the show any day. Much like Takahashi winning again though, seeing Okada win the World Title again isn’t the most exciting result. Great match though and that’s all that matters.
Post match White pulls himself up and actually seems to show some respect. With White gone, Shingo Takagi comes out to issue the challenge for February 1 (commentary seems a bit confused by Takagi picking that date). With Takagi gone, Okada asks if Antonio Inoki saw the matches and thanks the fans to wrap things up. Actually hang on, as we’ll get in one more Inoki chant to really finish it off.
Commentary talks a lot, as tends to be the case.
Overall Rating: A. It’s not quite at the same level as previous Wrestle Kingdoms but how can you complain about something this good? The last two matches were both great and there was more than enough that was either solid to near awesome throughout. Nothing was bad, but perhaps more importantly, this FELT like a Wrestle Kingdom. Maybe it’s the fans cheering or maybe it’s having the show on one night again, but this was another blast, as tends to be the case with Wrestle Kingdom.
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