New Japan Pro Wrestling is the second biggest wrestling company in the world. Or at least it is now following their spectacle known as Wrestle Kingdom 11 last night. Wrestle Kingdom, which is NJPW’s version of WWE’s Wrestlemania, takes place annually a few days after the turn of the new year. The event saw it’s 11th installment take place and what an event it was.
From the debut of former WWE superstar and newest Bullet Club member Cody Rhodes to the main event which in the eyes of many, is one of the greatest wrestling matches ever.
But why does it take until now for me to write about New Japan? Along with Ring of Honor and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, New Japan is jockeying to become the second-best wrestling company in the world. You could argue that it’s the best wrestling company in the world. Some of the greatest technicians in wrestling have honed their skills in Japan. From Chris Jericho and Eddie Guerrero to AJ Styles and Finn Balor, Japan has become the place for wrestlers to learn how to master the art of professional wrestling. And if for some reason, you didn’t appreciate the masterpiece that occurred last night, then maybe wrestling isn’t for you. Maybe sports entertainment is a better fit.
New Japan is set for a big 2017, as they look to show off their product globally and try and gain fans from the other side of the ocean. Their partnership with Ring of Honor, in which talent is regularly exchanged, has helped build a solid New Japan fan base in America and last night’s Wrestle Kingdom was the first step to New Japan’s wrestling world takeover. The event sold 26,192 tickets in the famous Tokyo Dome as they saw six new champions crowned. Some highlights included Adam Cole, who became the first-ever 3-time Ring of Honor World Champion, after defeating his long-time rival Kyle O’Reilly, The Young Bucks losing their IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships to Roppongi Vice and Los Ingobernables de Japon claiming the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships in a four-way match involving some of New Japan’s top factions in Bullet Club and CHAOS.
The three main event match-ups didn’t fail to disappoint. Hirooki Goto won the NEVER Openweight Championship, defeating Katsuyori Shibata in one of the stiffest matches of the night (‘stiffest’ meaning the punches and hits are made to look realistic, a huge part of Japanese wrestling). Tetsuya Naito, leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon, became the first champion of the night to retain his championship, taking down the legendary Hiroshi Tanahashi.
Then came the main event, a match-up a year in the making. After assuming leadership of the Bullet Club, 2016 saw the rise of Kenny Omega as one of the top wrestlers in the world. A self-proclaimed Match of the Year factory as put in his twitter bio, Omega won the annual G1 Climax, New Japan’s biggest annual tournament, putting on near 5-star matches everytime he stepped foot inside the squared circle. His G1 Climax victory automatically gave him a title shot against IWGP Heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada, who over the past couple of years had been the face of New Japan Pro Wrestling. They had the perfect build-up, the main event just needed the perfect match. And a perfect match was delivered. Omega’s dives outside of the ring, including a backdrop through a table. Okada’s never-say-die attitude. Omega’s knees striking with force. Okada’s picture-perfect dropkicks. The story of Omega trying to hit his One-Winged Angel finisher and Okada finding a way to get out on every single occasion. And after 45 grueling minutes, Okada finding the will to hit Omega with a spinning and jumping tombstone piledriver before craving his head in with his fourth Rainmaker. 1-2-3. Okada retains in an absolute classic. Trust me, if you haven’t seen this match, watch it. It’s end-to-end action. Seriously, watch the match now and come back in 45 minutes. I’ll wait.
Like it? Congrats, you just witnessed one of the greatest matches in the history of professional wrestling. Four days into 2017 and I don’t think you will find any match that will top that. It’s already the Match of the Year. Maybe even Match of the Century. Top wrestling analyst Dave Meltzer, known for giving ratings to wrestling matches, gave this match six stars out of five. SIX STARS.
It was the perfect match to give New Japan the global exposure they needed. In their official statement, New Japan aimed to have “an increased television presence and expansion of our complete New Japan World streaming service.” They go on to say that NJPW stars will be more accessible and visible through books, movies, television and special appearances. And they also announced two live events to take place at the Los Angeles Long Beach Convention Center, expanding their American audience.
Their aim shouldn’t be to compete with the WWE. They are two separate wrestling companies who are unique in their own way. Instead, they should be an option for wrestling fans. An alternative for those who aren’t accustomed to the stupidity of the WWE.
Wrestle Kingdom 11 was a great way to start 2017 in the world of professional wrestling. The future is bright for New Japan and you couldn’t think of a more perfect way of showing it. Let’s see if the rest of the wrestling world can keep up.