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NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17 Review

njpw wrestle kingdom 17 banner

Welcome to TJRWrestling’s review of New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 17 event. I watched the show on New Japan World and I think it was a great way to start the new year when it comes to pro-wrestling.

I’ve been a New Japan fan for many years now. I got into the product about a decade ago, around the time Kazuchika Okada became a big star. Since then I’ve seen countless awesome matches and have had the privilege of meeting and talking to several NJPW wrestlers, including Tanahashi, Naito, Ishii, and Jushin Liger.

And even though New Japan’s overall product has been kind of stale lately, this show lived up to the hype and exceeded my expectations in some ways as well.

How good was the show? Read on to find out.

Once again, these will be abridged reviews with me highlighting the key things in each match. I will be rating the matches using the star-rating scale, because mine isn’t broken and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. If you want more detailed reviews of particular matches, check out my 5-star/Almost 5-star match review series. In those reviews, I go into extensive detail on in-ring action and storytelling.

Pre-Show

Match #1: Ryohei Oiwa and Oleg Boltin went to a 3:00 time limit DRAW

wrestle kingdom 17 match 1

This was a very basic match; the most complex move was a hiptoss. These two just hit simple moves on each other and just grappled, which was expected of two rookies/trainees. There wasn’t much in terms of heat or tension. It was a passable exhibition match but not really something worthy of NJPW’s biggest show of the year.

Final Rating: *3/4

Match #2: Great O-Khan, Shingo Takagi, SHO, and Toru Yano advanced to the four way match

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I got this match wrong by assuming NJPW would go in a different direction and have one winner this year face last year’s winner. But at least I was 25% right by predicting that Yano would be involved in some way.

The match was maybe 10% serious competition and 90% a protracted sampler platter of each wrestler’s gimmick. Ishii brawled with people. EVIL cheated. Hikuleo did the big man gimmick since he literally towered over everyone else. Taguchi hit people with his ass until he got kancho’d and then pinned. El Phantasmo eliminated someone via titty twister.

It only got interesting when Shingo came in and started knocking people down like a bull in a china shop and when Taichi tried taking on six people at once. There was also a hint of WWE-style surprise as Phantasmo pulled a Kofi Kingston and landed on the bottom of the narrow metal barricade and not the floor and then got carried back to the ring by his Bullet Club allies. So I guess The New Day must be smiling knowing they’re influencing gimmicks in Japan.

But beyond that it was a slow and uninteresting match. And it’s too bad that guys like Shingo, Taichi, and ishii were relegated to this match despite being much bigger stars.

Final Rating: **

Match #3: Antonio Inoki Memorial Six-Man Tag Match: Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima & Togi Makabe defeated Tatsumi Fujinami, Minoru Suzuki & Tiger Mask IV

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The three New Japan Dads (and Suzuki) all wore scarves as tributes to Inoki while TM4 added a red finish to his cape and Fujinami wore an Inoki-style robe to the ring. Unfortunately, that and a short pre-match video. a post-match promo, and a short video to open the main card, were all the tributes done to Inoki.

It was kind of underwhelming given how big Inoki was. For Inoki’s tribute to be confined to such a low-card match and then have his aspect of the match be so threadbare almost made it seem like he was being glossed over instead of being given the sendoff he earned.

Anyways, the actual match was a lot better than expected given how worn down all six men were. Yet despite their limitations they worked a fine little match here. Fujinami moved smoothly for a 69-year old man. Nagata and Suzuki brought flashes of their intense Wrestle Kingdom rivalry from years prior. Kojima hit machine gun chops, only for Suzuki to no-sell them and power up. Makabe ran wild and TM4 did basic moves. There was also a nice little nostalgia spot as Fujinami hit dragon screw leg whip on all three of the Dads.

But the match fell apart at the end when TM4 and Makabe had some miscommunications. A few moves looked like they were botched and so the match ended suddenly with Makabe falling on TM4 in a heap. This would be a much bigger problem if these were main-eventers still in their primes. But since it was a bunch of fifty-year olds, it didn’t hurt the match as badly.

Final Rating: **1/4

Main Card

Match #4: Catch 2/2: Francesco Akira & TJP) defeated LiYoh (Lio Rush and YOH) to retain the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships

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This match was exactly what was expected: frenetic chaos with high spots seconds into it. The action spilled onto the entrance ramp early, leading to Lio being taken out at first, which left YOH on his own. With Lio basically taken out and not even on the apron to tag, the champs had full access to the entire ring to beat up YOH as much as they wanted. And when Lio finally made it to the ring, the champs kept cutting him off so that YOH couldn’t do much.

The match kicked into high gear once Lio tagged in and he ran wild even as he bled the hard way. then both sides started hitting tandem moves and cool combos that built to some solid near-falls. The final few minutes of this ten-minute match had some great counters and pin kick-outs and the finish really came out of nowhere. This was pleasantly surprising and a much better match than I was expecting.

Final Rating: ***1/4

Match #5: KAIRI defeated Tam Nakano to retain the IWGP Women’s Championship

There was a bit too much exaggerated cosplay in this match for my liking. KAIRI resurrected her Pirate Princess gimmick from NXT and came out looking like Captain Jack Sparrow while Tam Nakano brought a halberd to the ring bigger than herself. It all seemed excessive.

As for the match, it was surprisingly short at just under six minutes. It came across more like an exhibition match than a title defense. But while it was short, it was also compact. Both women packed enough action into it and the match had some solid moments, including KAIRI hitting an Uraken that would make Aja Kong smile and Nakano hitting a joshi-style Steiner Screwdriver. What’s a Steiner Screwdriver? This monstrosity.

Then, as I predicted, KAIRI’s victory celebration was cut short as the former Sasha Banks – now going under the name Mercedes Mone – made her debut. After removing her crown, Mone shook hands with KAIRI and did some Gory special into an armbreaker or something like that. Then she grabbed a microphone and introduced herself as, “the standard, the conversation, the blueprint, and the CEO of this women’s division.” Then she vowed to take Kairi’s title at Battle in the Valley in San Jose.

mercedes mone wk17

Final Rating: **1/4

Match #6: Bishamon (Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI) defeated FTR (Dax Harwood & Cash Wheeler) to win the IWGP Tag Team Championships

Much like the Jr Heavyweight tag from earlier, this match was compact and filled with solid action. Both teams did a great job of working together. Bishamon did some fun moves like when Goto used HASHI as a weapon and FTR did the same with an impressive powerbomb/bridging dragon suplex combo. At the same time, it was a little bit hard to buy YOSHI-HASHI as being on the same level like everyone else. FTR were a cohesive unit of equals and Goto came across as much better than his partner.

But then HASHI started impressing everyone by surviving multiple tag team moves and piledrivers. The match peaked in the last two minutes as FTR tried everything to pin HASHI and isolate Goto but they couldn’t. And when the challengers hit the double-team finish that they’d been all throughout the match it got the biggest pop of the night so far.

So now FTR enters 2023 without any tag title belts. And considering how the other big AEW-related match went, I can’t help but wonder if they might follow in William Regal’s footsteps.

Final Rating: ***1/4

Match #7: Zack Sabre, Jr. defeated Ren Narita to become the inaugural NJPW World Television Champion

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Once again, this match was exactly what I predicted it would be: ZSJ torturing his opponent for ten minutes before winning. Narita had flashes of defiance and bravery but those things alone couldn’t overcome ZSJ’s technical wizardry and punishing submission holds. But while those things didn’t help Narita win, they did help get him over.

Narita tried his best to go hold-for-hold with ZSJ which was as bullheaded a decision as one could have. But when that failed, Narita pulled a Shibata (who, coincidentally, was on commentary here) and ordered ZSJ to punt his exposed back. then they reversed that sequence and just threw Strong Style bombs at each other for a bit.

After that the match went back to its more technical origins with ZSJ stopping Narita’s momentum whenever possible. the last minute was particularly great as Narita looked to be regaining steam as he countered one ZSJ hold after another. But then ZSJ went back to the left arm he tore apart in the opening sequence and Narita tapped out instantly. For a ten-minute singles match this was great, and a shining example of why ZSJ, with his speed, technique, and ability to make virtually and cover or submission hold, is such a fun wrestler to watch.

Final Rating: ***1/2

Then in a surprising switch, Mikey Nicholls and Shane Haste of The Mighty Don’t Kneel came out and congratulated ZSJ for his win. Then they offered him a TMDK shirt and he accepted, which means that ZSJ is now part of a different stable now that Suzuki-gun has disbanded. That might be an interesting new direction since ZSJ was Suzuki’s #2 for a long time and now he might follow Ospreay’s example and lead his own faction.

Match #8: Tama Tonga defeated Karl Anderson to win the NEVER Openweight Championship.

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I was one minute off with my prediction but the result was still the same.

Anderson was on fire out of the gate as he hit a fisherman neckbreaker onto the barricade and then channeled his former tag partner Giant Bernard/Albert with a sitout Piledriver on the entrance ramp. Then after some long selling, both guys teased RKoing each other, to the point that I think Randy Orton should start demanding royalties. Seriously, Tonga even did the Orton ‘hitting the mat stalking his opponent’ gimmick.

But aside from that, this match was decidedly average. Not much heat, nothing too exciting, and not much in terms of payoff. The final thirty seconds was all about teasing who’d hit the Gun Stun/Ace Crusher/RKO/cutter first. And when Tonga finally did it, Anderson botched the landing. All in all, a bland match, even with the low expectations going into it.

Final Rating: **

Match #9: Keiji Muto, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Shota Umino defeated Los Ighnobernables de Japón (Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, and Bushi)

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In their own way, New Japan did as I predicted by starting the match with Muto and SANADA having a master vs. pupil confrontation. SANADA attacked Muto furiously early and even landed a rib breaker/moonsault combo for a close 2.75-count within the first minute.

But despite taking such a big hit, Muto moved incredibly well for a 60-year old with artificial hips and knees. he still did his dropkick to the knee/shining wizard combo effortlessly and teased a moonsault despite retiring that move almost a decade ago. Tanahashi had to tell Muto to stop (because if he tried the moonsault, Muto would, no joke, probably kill himself) and Muto relented. But Muto still hit some of his trademark moves like the flashing elbow. He seemed unstoppable, and LIJ were only able to take control of the match by triple-teaming their opponents one-by-one.

And when Muto wasn’t involved, the match stayed interesting since Tanahashi and Naito resurrected their rivalry from six years ago. Then when it came to living up to athletic expectations, Umino and Bushi brought the speed and the high-flying stuff. And to really make this match into something special, everyone involved got locked in submission holds. Umino put Bushi in an STF as Masa Chono looked on from commentary, Tanahashi locked Naito in a Texas cloverleaf, and Muto put SANADA in a Figure-4.

Then after Tanahashi punished LIJ for interfering too much, Muto hit his final New Japan Shining Wizard to setup for Umino for his finish to end the match.

It wasn’t the emotional rollercoaster or the tribute match I was expecting but it was still fine. This is one match that should’ve gone longer and gotten more out of Muto since it was clear he still had more storytelling he could do despite his limitations. And unfortunately, SANADA wasn’t given the opportunity to go over as he should have, which makes me think he’ll soon be following in Goto’s footsteps as a guy that has/had potential but didn’t/won’t crack into the main-event.

Final Rating: **3/4

Match #10: Hiromu Takahashi defeated Taiji Ishimori, El Desperado & Master Wato to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship

I usually don’t like modern high-speed spot-fest matches since they cram too much into so little time but this was an exception. The match was really exciting and worth watching closely. The opening moments were filled with teased alliances that were broken up seconds later.

There was chaos with everyone going for quick pins, some of which took place simultaneously. There was an evenness to it that was broken when Ishimori decided to sit out and let his challengers kill each other. I’m not sure why they just let him sitout and recover instead of going after him, especially since he was able to goad two of them into charging at him and he punished them dearly for it. Then when they tried to rush back into the ring, Ishimori quebrada’d onto all of them and nearly won the match via count-out. It was refreshing to see high-flying stuff done with a storyline purpose instead of just gratuitously.

Things did get a bit too convoluted and spotty soon afterwards, especially as they did the one-at-a-time out-of-the-ring dive sequence. But the match circled back to a serious and wild bomb-fest with everyone spamming finishers, last-second counters, thrust kicks, and big moves galore, to the point that the match really could’ve ended at any moment. This was the kind of unpredictability I really enjoy in wrestling matches, even if they do have some sillier components.

At one point, Wato, my pick, had the match won but Ishimori threw the ref out of the ring and then hit Wato with a chair. But he was punished for it when Wato countered Ishimori and hit his own finish, only for Hiromu to break up what would’ve been the winning cover. And while Wato didn’t win, he had a stellar performance here, especially when he hit one of the most insane overhead German/Backdrop suplexes I’ve ever seen. He almost had the match won but Hiromu was able to reverse a headscissor into his Time Bomb II super-finisher to win the match and the title. So even though Wato didn’t win, I wouldn’t be surprised if he beats Hiromu at some point later this year.

Final Rating: ****1/4

Match #11: Kenny Omega defeated Will Ospreay to win the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship

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If there’s one message from this match, it’s this: Kenny Omega is way better at being a heel than a babyface. He was excellent as the smug douchebag here as he attacked Ospreay’s back and did so many little things to make the crowd hate him. Even if his video-game inspired entrance cosplay was meant to get people to cheer him again, the way he wrestled all but ensured that they’d cheer Ospreay instead.

Ospreay still did his usual shtick of flying around when unnecessary and still relied on moves that were too risky since he had a weakened back. It really wasn’t smart for Ospreay to attempt an Os-Cutter on the edge of the apron knowing he’d do more damage to himself, even if he landed the move fully. And since Omega had an easy time of avoiding it by holding onto the ropes, Ospreay made himself look like he’s all guts and no brains. I get that NJPW’s Strong Style emphasizes overcoming the odds, but it doesn’t help when a wrestler digs themselves a deeper hole by going for too high a risk and too often.

The match got more dramatic from there, though, as Omega propped a table onto Ospreay and then dove onto it with such force that he broke a hole in it (and almost through Ospreay as well). Then the high-spots and big moves came and…well…Omega did indeed turn back time to 2017/2018. Just like Omega had done many times before, he and his opponent threw each other around with some utterly ludicrous moves. Poisoned Frankensteiners, high-angle suplexes, and even a top-rope DDT into the exposed top turnbuckle were all executed here. And Ospreay, like Lio Rush, started bleeding the hard way from how hard he was getting hit.

But once Ospreay started bleeding, it’s as if a switch was flipped. He stopped being the same acrobatic performer he was before and started selling and moving around like an old school wrestler. He staggered around, held onto Omega’s leg to stop him from hitting his V-Trigger, and even struggled to climb the top rope because he was so out of it. There was a greater sense of realism from Ospreay than in so many of his prior matches that were held together by his daredevil athleticism instead of his ability to sell that he was in danger.

Then Ospreay started this miraculous comeback by applying every manga trope ever. He powered up like a superhero and hit a volley of big moves out of nowhere in a short and almost cinematic burst. He and Omega hit each other with one brutal move after another and even copied the now-ubiquitous ‘Okada maintains wrist control’ gimmick so that neither man could escape and get critical recovery time. There was even a great moment of defiance as Ospreay spat at Omega and yelled ‘F**K YOU’ as Omega hit Kota Ibushi’s Kamigoye finisher on him followed by the OWA to win the match and the title.

While I’m a bit surprised by the finish, I’m not surprised that this match stole the show. It was one of Ospreay’s best matches in years and one of Omega’s best as well. Even with some underwhelming bits early on, they compensated with a fun second half. Everything that took place once Ospreay started bleeding was excellent. Definitely a MOTYC.

Final Rating: ****3/4

Match #12: Kazuchika Okada defeated Jay White to win the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship

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I didn’t think that the semi-main event would actually go longer than an Okada match, so at least that was a nice surprise. And while Okada and White did surpass the 30-minute mark, the match wasn’t as slow as I was expecting. White bullied Okada plenty during the opening stretch and did a great job of riling up Okada and the fans. There was a nice little payoff when Okada DDT’d both White and Gedo on the entrance ramp and when White tried chopping Okada while mocking him, Okada pummeled him instead.

Then as Okada started building towards his finishers, the match really kicked into higher gear. He and White did similar things as Omega and Ospreay before them: they teased so much and built up these tense sequences that got more exciting with each move. So while the Ospreay/Omega match was more outwardly exciting, this one had more psychology and storytelling.

But despite all of White’s efforts, I never got the impression that he was going to win. He wrestled more like the challenger than the champion. And based on how the match flowed, Okada came across as the man to beat, not White. No matter how many tricks and surprises White attempted, he just couldn’t stop Okada. There was never a genuine sense of vulnerability from Okada; he was delayed but never stopped. Not even hitting Okada with his own Rainmaker lariat multiple times really put a dent in the challenger. And once Okada busted out an Inoki-style enzuigiri, the finish became clear.

Okada won and the default position in New Japan was restored. I’m sure it sent the fans home happy but creatively it was business as usual. So while the match was good by Okada standards and a vast improvement from these two wrestlers’ Dominion match, it was still a far cry from the dramatic epic it could’ve been.

Final Rating: ****1/2

Bonus Topics:

Best match on the card: Will Ospreay vs. Kenny Omega (****3/4)

Worst match on the card: Karl Anderson vs. Tama Tonga (**) [main card] only

Overall Show Rating: 7.75/10

Wrestle Kingdom 17 was better than I expected. Aside from one or two underwhelming matches, there wasn’t anything inherently bad. I only got 5 out of 12 match results correct, but some other things I predicted came true as well. And even though there were plenty of surprises, most of them were on the positive side.

Ospreay and Omega had an excellent match. Had they trimmed down a few things and gotten rid of some others then I probably would’ve gone the full 5-Stars for them. I don’t give that rating lightly; out of the hundreds of matches I’ve reviewed for TJR, I’ve only given a 5-Star rating out of about 70, and that’s going as far back as 1989. But these two came very close to reaching that top-tier level of greatness. I don’t doubt that Dave Meltzer will praise them much more than me and give them some absurdly high rating. Whatever rating he gives them I’m sure there are legions out there that will say they earned such praise.

The most pleasantly surprising match was the Junior heavyweight four-way. I was expecting a total clusterf**k of a car crash with no substance and just nonstop moves. But it was much more than that. There was some actual tension and a story going on in the midst of all the chaos. It was one of the better examples of packing so much into a match while still keeping a semblance of logic to it. I strongly recommend watching that one, especially since most people will have forgotten about it due to the two main-event matches.

Okada vs. White was solid by Okada standards but nowhere near his best work. I think White didn’t do enough to show that he stood a chance of overcoming Okada in any way. He should’ve known better; Okada has main-evented so many Tokyo Dome shows and has beaten so many big stars that acting cocky with him or not wrestling seriously is a recipe for disaster. I don’t know where New Japan goes from here. Maybe Shingo will get another shot. Maybe Tanahashi will get one last shot before vowing to never challenge Okada again since doing so would be pointless in the future. Or maybe Ospreay challenges him one more time to surpass Mitsuharu Misawa’s total number of 5-Star matches. Who knows.

The undercard was better than expected, though I have to say I was disappointed with the Muto match. A match like that doesn’t come around often and NJPW really bungled how it was handled. Muto got a few minutes to shine and was then rendered inconsequential…in his own match.

This was the opposite of what the same company did with Jushin Liger’s final matches. When Liger retired, it was Hiromu who put him down once and for all. And look where Hiromu is now: being groomed as the next Liger in terms of title success and legendary junior heavyweight status. NJPW had a golden opportunity to do something similar with SANADA, who was Muto’s pupil. Instead, something completely inane happened and SANADA was basically doomed to a future of midcard tags and ‘what if’ fantasy booking. It’s a shame; SANADA had the potential to break out of the monotony of the midcard and rub shoulders with the topmany’s best wrestlers, only for that last-ditch opportunity to disappear.

Anyway, this show was almost as good as Night Two from last year’s event. I think the undercard should’ve been shuffled around a bit more and some of the company’s bigger stars should’ve been used better, especially Suzuki, Ishii, and Takagi. But with New Year’s Dash happening tomorrow (or tonight, depending on your time zone), anything can happen now that last year’s loose ends are all tied up.

Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.