The wait is over! Tonight, at an obscenely late hour (if you’re watching pretty much anywhere that isn’t Japan, Australia, or New Zealand), New Japan Pro Wrestling presents its annual flagship show, Wrestle Kingdom. The Tokyo Dome will once again play host to Japan’s greatest wrestling spectacle, and the card is looking like an absolute feast for the eyes. We’ve already spoken to Beretta and Kenny Omega about their journeys to Wrestle Kingdom, and now it’s time to take a closer look at tonight’s lineup. Here’s the full card:
- Pre-Show: New Japan Rumble
- Singles Match: Tiger Mask W vs. Tiger The Dark
- IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Match: The Young Bucks (c) vs. Roppongi Vice
- NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship Gauntlet Match: Bullet Club vs. CHAOS vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon vs. Satoshi Kojima, David Finlay, and Ricochet (c)
- Singles Match: Cody Rhodes vs. Juice Robinson
- Ring of Honor World Championship Match: Kyle O’Reilly (c) vs. Adam Cole
- IWGP Tag Team Championship Three-Way Match: Guerillas of Destiny (c) vs. Great Bash Heel vs. Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano
- IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship Match: KUSHIDA (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi
- NEVER Openweight Championship Match: Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Hirooki Goto
- IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match: Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
- IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Kenny Omega
Every title in New Japan is on the line! It’s a lot to take in, so here are the big talking points going into tonight’s show.
Faction Warfare: Wrestle Kingdom 11 will be a battle contested between three armies. Once considered the renegade troublemakers, Kazuchika Okada’s CHAOS crew have ironically found themselves managing the lofty task of keeping order in New Japan. Associates like Roppongi Vice, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, and Hirooki Goto will try to pry control away from NJPW’s heels. Kenny Omega leads the Bullet Club into this Wrestle Kingdom, and he’ll seek to become BC’s first heavyweight champion since AJ Styles. The most recent marauders on the scene are Los Ingobernables de Japon, led by Tetsuya Naito. Their brand of anarchy and disrespect for tradition have actually been their most effective weapond in winning the hearts and minds of NJPW fans, and they’ll look to continue running roughshod over the company.
Anime Is Real: The most curious encounter on the card will be an exhibition match between Tiger Mask W and Tiger The Dark. This won’t be the first time that characters from the Toei anime series Tiger Mask W set foot inside a New Japan ring – remember, back at King of Pro-Wrestling, we saw Kota Ibushi adopt the Tiger Mask persona in a match against Red Death Mask (played by Juice Robinson). But this time, he’ll square off against his archenemy, Tiger The Dark. It’s not exactly a well-kept secret who’ll be portraying the Tiger The Dark, but if you haven’t been spoiled yet, you’re in for a nice surprise. As of yet, there’s no word on whether we’ll see an appearance from Yellow Devil or Hiroshi Tanahashi in his full It’s-The-Ace costume. (Tiger Mask W is bonkers and I can’t stop watching it.)
New Faces: Wrestle Kingdom 11 will be the arrival party for two men in particular. Most notably, Cody Rhodes makes his New Japan debut as part of the Bullet Club. This makes him the only man in history to complete wrestling’s major-show “grand slam” over the course of 12 months (WrestleMania, Bound For Glory, Final Battle, and Wrestle Kingdom). It’s a major occasion, but spare a thought for his opponent Juice Robinson, who is walking into the biggest match of his career as an astronomical underdog. And while it’s not technically his first match back on the New Japan roster, Hiromu Takahashi is starting a bold new chapter with his match against KUSHIDA. After an extended tour of Mexico and the United States, the man formerly known as Kamaitachi has now joined Los Ingobernables and is looking to erase the prestige that KUSHIDA has brought to the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.
Old Rivalries: Some heated feuds from the past are coming back to life at WK11. Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly were once known as the tag team Future Shock before violently going their separate ways. Now, O’Reilly will make his first defense of the ROH World Championship against Cole, who seeks to become the company’s first three-time world champion. Elsewhere on the card, the on-again-off-again bromance of Katsuyori Shibata and Hirooki Goto is once again coming to a head. Friends ever since they met in high school, the two were at odds when Shibata returned to pro wrestling after calling it quits in MMA. They eventually patched things up and found tag team success, only to hit more rocky times at the the hands of the Bullet Club and split up yet again. Now, Goto has replaced Shinsuke Nakamura as CHAOS Second-In-Command, and Shibata is looking to cement his legacy as the definitive NEVER Openweight Champion.
Kenny Omega Is Making History: It’s truly amazing what can happen in a year. The day after Wrestle Kingdom 10, Kenny Omega kicked AJ Styles out of the Bullet Club and assumed leadership. Since then, he won the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, introduced the ladder match to NJPW, and became the first Westerner to win the G1 Climax tournament. Now, he’ll march into the Tokyo Dome as the first gaijin to main-event a Wrestle Kingdom. Scott Norton, Josh Barnett, and Brock Lesnar have main-evented January 4 Tokyo Dome shows in the past, but none under the Wrestle Kingdom name. One has to wonder … how many more milestones can The Cleaner hit in 2017?
Coverage of Wrestle Kingdom 11 begins at 2 AM (Eastern Time) with the pre-show and New Japan Rumble on njpwworld.com — you’ve still got plenty of time to sign up! Let us know in the comments which matches you’re looking forward to, and keep an eye out for the Best And Worst Of Wrestle Kingdom 11!