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NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17 - January 4, 2023

by Doc Allen

Live from the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan. Wikipedia lists attendance at 26,085. I haven't properly watched New Japan since last year's Wrestle Kingdom, so please bear with me.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship:
Catch 22 © (Francesco Akira and TJP) vs. CHAOS (Lio Rush and YOH)

YOH greets the champs with a tope suicia. YOH and Rush hit a tandem wheelbarrow, followed by a Rush plancha outside. Rush tries a suplex on the steel ramp, but Catch 22 counter with a 3D variation. Catch 22 are now free to work YOH over in their corner. Akira hits a messy missile dropkick from TJP's shoulders to ringside. TJP piles CHAOS in the corner for a running face wash, but Rush pops up for a spear. A bloody Rush gets a hot tag and unleashes rapid offense on TJP. Double back elbows by Rush, then rapid heat seeking topes to outside. Unprettier on Akira gets 2. The match breaks down for a breather and applause. They get back up for a Tower of Doom, YOH rolls through for a suplex, and Rush nails a frog splash for a fun nearfall. CHAOS hit their version of the Big Rig, but TJP ambushes with Sole Food for 2. YOH counters with a poison rana on TJP, Rush helps with a desperation Spanish Fly. CHAOS hit their double flapjack but the pin is broken up yet again. Springboard stunner by Rush, YOH hulks up, but TJP reverses with an inside cradle to win at 10:32. They had a compelling story going early, but they threw it out the window for a typical spotfest finishing sequence, **¾.
Winners and still IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champions: Catch 22

IWGP Women's Championship:
KAIRI © vs. Tam Nakano

Pirate Princess KAIRI is accompanied by a pair of Grim Reapers. They trae holds, KAIRI scores the first takedown, Nakano answers with an immediate dropkick. KAIRI doesn't care for Nakano's taunting and they trade strikes. Spear by KAIRI, then a sliding lariat. Flying forearm by KAIRI gets 2. Spin heel kick by Nakano sets up a messy high crossbody outside. German by Nakano gets 2. Delayed Falcon Arrow by Nakano gets a routine nearfall. KAIRI delivers a vicious backhand for 2. Insane Elbow drop by KAIRI ends it at 5:56. Decent match, but felt disrespectfully short at six minutes, **¼.
Winner and still IWGP Women's Champion: KAIRI

KAIRI's celebration is interrupted when the lights go out and some unfamiliar music hits. A mysterious dancing figure on the big screen is revealed to be none other than the wrestler formerly known as Sasha Banks. The newly rebranded Mercedes Mone struts to the ring in a glitzy kimono and Lady Liberty crown. KAIRI isn't fazed and shakes Mone's hand, only to get her arm slammed into the canvas. Mercedes proclaims herself to be the CEO of New Japan and STARDOM, and puts KAIRI on notice for the upcoming San Jose event. Pretty run of the mill debut for Mercedes, can only get better from here.

IWGP Tag Team Championship:
FTR © (Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler) vs. Bishamon (Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI)

Cash fights out of YOSHI's wristlock and applies a side headlock. YOSHI answers with a shoulder tackle. Dax asks for a tag to square off against Goto. Bishamon double team Dax and throw Wheeler out. Dax counters into a Brainbuster, Cash hits a sweet tope onto Bishamon. FTR hit a superplex and frog splash in quick order for 2. Dax powerbombs Goto into Cash's Dragon Suplex, Goto breaks the pin. Goto blocks the Big Rig and gives Dax a brainbuster onto his knee. YOSHI-HASHI gets a lukewarm tag but still runs wild. FTR rebound with the Big Rig on Goto, but YOSHI breaks the cover! Cash and YOSHI tumble outside blocking suplexes. Smashing headbutt by Goto and a vertical suplex allows another tag. Dax gives YOSHI a spike piledriver for a good nearfall. FTR hit a tandem spike piledriver, Goto saves the match! YOSHI blocks the Big Rig, Bishamon isolate Dax for their tandem powerbomb finisher to win at 10:12. And just like that, FTR have no gold. Solid match for the time they were given, **¾.
Winners and new IWGP Tag Team Champions: Bishamon

NJPW Television Championship (Tournament Finals):
Ren Narita vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

15 minute time limit is in effect. ZSJ goes right after the arm, Narita looks for a KO blow. They reach a stalemate and restart with some friendly chain wrestling. It quickly deteriorates into trading stiff kicks. ZSJ contorts the fingers and stomps the elbow into the mat. Narita hits an overhead throw, but stops to sell his arm. Northern Lights suplex by Narita gets 2. Narita hits a kick to the spine and then sits down to allow ZSJ to do the same. ZSJ returns the favor. They both go for thrust kicks for stereo takedowns. They trade sprinting kicks as they pass the 5 minute mark. Narita scores an Exploder for 2. ZSJ counters into a grapevine ankle lock, Narita rolls to the ropes. Sabre relishes more stiff kicks, hits a Northern Lights, and then applies a triangle choke. Narita stomps the face to escape. Narita tries a chinlock, which leads to close pinfall reversals. Narita no sells a German and dishes one of his own. Narita misses a roundhouse kick, ZSJ pulls him into a nearfall as 10 minutes expire. They trade abdominal stretches until Sabre counters with a hammerlock for an instant submission at 10:34. Joyfully wonderful in-ring action all around, ***½.
Winner and new NJPW Television Champion: Zack Sabre Jr.

TMDK interrupts Sabre's celebration, apparently throwing their names into the hat for title shots, but instead offering him their t-shirt. ZSJ accepts the shirt and it looks like the band is back together.

NEVER Openweight Championship:
Karl Anderson © vs. Tama Tonga (with Jado)

Yes, that's WWE's very own Karl Anderson, which means that this event has talent from New Japan, AEW, and WWE all under one roof. I can't imagine this will happen again anytime soon. Anderson cheap shots with the belt before the bell, then suplexes Tonga onto the guard rail. Win or lose, Karl is making more money than ever, but he still tries to win via countout. Tonga stands up, so Karl gives him a piledriver on the metal ramp. Karl gets overconfident and Tonga throws him down the ramp. They duke it out on the apron until Anderson blocks a Gun Stun and hits a dropkick. Tonga explodes out of a hard Irish whip to hit a clothesline. Tonga tees off on Anderson, who comes back with a flying cutter for 2. Karl does a Randy Orton viper impression, but Tonga cuts him off with a rolling DVD. Anderson tries an avalanche Brainbuster, Tonga counters into a high crossbody. Frog splash by Tonga gets 2. Anderson blocks the Gun Stun, but Tonga responds with a second rope Gun Stun. Tonga hits a messy RKO to win at 9:36. Average match somewhat elevated by Bullet Club history, **¼.
Winner and new NEVER Champion: Tama Tonga

Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, SANADA, and Tetsuya Naito) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Keiji Mutoh, and Shota Umino

This is Mutoh's final NJPW match, and he insists on starting against SANADA. Cheap shot by SANADA allows a hot start. SANADA hits a backbreaker and moonsault for a scary nearfall with less than a minute gone. Mutah answers with a Shining Wizard and scoop slam. Mutoh climbs, but Tanahashi pleads with him to reconsider. Instead, Mutoh gives SANADA a normal elbow drop. Tanahashi tags in to pick up the pieces. LiJ turn the tide on Tanahashi and work him over in their corner. Tanahashi counters with a leg screw on Naito. Umino gets the allegedly hot tag and runs wild. Umino's offense is well executed, but still pretty generic by New Japan standards. Mutoh, Tanahashi, and Umino apply triangle submissions around the ring. Naito recovers with an atomic drop and neckbreaker on Umino. Bushi tags and hits a missile dropkick, Umino answers with a spinning neckbreaker. SANADA interferes with dropkicks, causing the match to break down. In the chaos, Mutoh hits BUSHI with a Shining Wizard. Umino hits a double underhook DDT to win at 9:22. Warm feelings for Mutoh aside, this was a house show level performance, **¼.
Winners: Shota Umino, Keiji Mutoh, and Hiroshi Tanahashi

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship:
Taiji Ishimori © vs. Master Wato vs. El Desperado vs. Hiromu Takahashi

Fast start with everyone gunning for the advantage. Wato still looks hella awkward. They reach a stalemate with 90 seconds gone. Ishimori slips out, the other three stupidly continue fighting without him. Desperado finally smartens up, but then runs into Ishimori's hip toss on the ramp. Wato and Hiromu charge in for similar fates and Ishimori yucks it up as he strolls back to the ring for a possible countout win. All three guys scramble back onto to suffer an Ishimori moonsault. The conniving heel is the smartest guy in the match, I hope he wins. Ishimori hits a low German on Desperado, but misses a 450. Ishiimori and Desperado apply stereo submissions, but Hiromu slams Ishimori onto the others. Wato tees off on Hiromu and hits a rana. Ishimori trips Wato, blocks a sunset bomb, but Desperado catches him with a somersault plancha! Wato dives onto Desperado, Hiromu hits a flying senton onto everyone. Hiromu scrambles to give Wato a DVD into the buckles. Desperado gives Ishimori a spinebuster, Wato ambushes with a sling blade variation. Hiromu counters Wato with a sitout powerbomb, but so does Ishimori. Desperado gives Taiji a Blue Thunder Bomb, but Wato interrupts with a superkick. Everyone hits the canvas but the fans miss the memo to give them an ovation. Everyone stumbles up for a slapfest. Wato crucifixes Ishimori for 2. They arrange a Tower of Doom, Desperado breaks the pin. Desperado repeatedly smashes Hiromu in the face and hits a double underhook slam. Hiromu counters into TIme Bomb for only 2. Wato ambushes Hiromu with a flying elbow and plants Desperado, but Ishimori pulls out the ref! Ishimori hits Wato with a chair and revives the ref. Wato reverses into a crucifix bomb, but Hiromu makes the late save! Wato hits a high elevation German on Hiromu for a great nearfall! Hiromu catches Wato with TIme Bomb to win at 16:44! With Wato looking good and teasing the upset, this result feels a tad bit deflating. I was totally on Ishimori Island because he was booked to look intelligent. Overall, a good, chaotic spotfest, ***.
Winner and new IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion: Hiromu Takahashi

IWGP United States Championship:
Will Ospreay © (with The United Empire) vs. Kenny Omega (with Don Callis)

Ospreay's attempted KO shot misses, so they engage in friendly chain wrestling instead. Ospreay kips up from a takedown and they trade shoves. Ospreay cartwheels out of a rana and hits a head scissors takedown and then a plancha outside. Omega absorbs a whip into the rails and then knocks Ospreay into the steel as well. Finlay Roll into a moonsault by Omega gets 2. Omega targets his attacks to Ospreay's spine. Ospreay desperately counters into an abdominal stretch, and sells his back while hitting a big boot. Stunner by Ospreay buys some time. Back handspring kick by Ospreay, then a phenomenal forearm for 2. Omega comes back with chops and blocks an Os-cutter on the ring frame, causing Ospreay to take a horrific bump. Omega drapes a table over Ospreay's spine and hits a diving double stomp! Replay shows that Omega missed the spine, but he still does an amusing “Heeeere's Kenny” through the table hole. Ospreay finds his second wind and suplexes Omega onto the broken table. Ospreay hits a top rope corkscrew senton to the floor! Ospreay hits a phenomenal forearm to the back of the skull, Omega blocks the Os-cutter for a V-Trigger and Poison Rana! Neckbreaker onto the knee by Kenny gets a good 2 count. Omega tries an avalanche Dragon Suplex, but Ospreay lands on his feet for a twisting leg drop. Os-cutter only gets 2! Ospreay stuffs Kenny for a series of kicks to the face. They battle on the top rope until Omega hits a DDT onto the ring post! Kenny digs deep for a soaring plancha. Omega props up the broken table and smashes Ospreay's bloody forehead to increase the hole. Back to the ring, Kenny hits a spike piledriver for 2. Ospreay shoves referee Red Shoes aside and talks into a snap Dragon Suplex. Second snap Dragon by Kenny, but Ospreay grabs his leg to prevent a V-Trigger. Omega settles for a double underhook slam for a rope break 2. Ospreay slaps some sense into himself, but Omega counters a rana with a jawbreaker onto the ring post. V-Trigger to the back of the skull! Kenny can't hit an avalanche One Winged Angel, so he hits a super German suplex instead! Omega V-Triggers the back skull again but OSPREAY KICKS OUT! Ospreay absorbs some V-Triggers to the face and stumbles to his feet for a flurry of stiff strikes. Ospreay lands on his feet in a lariat and hits a powerbomb for only 2! Ospreay nails a super Os-cutter, but OMEGA KICKS OUT! They block finishers and Ospreay hits a Styles Clash! Ospreay exposes his jaw for a knockout blow for only 2. Omega blocks Stormbreaker, Ospreay drops him with another Hidden Blade. They lock wrists and trade stiff forearms. Straight Jacket German by Omega gets 2. Ospreay spits at Kenny and earns a brutal V-Trigger and One Winged Angel for the pin at 34:42! Epic battle and surprisingly effective underdog babyface performance by Ospreay. If you read my AEW reviews, you know I love Omega's AEW work, but there's something different about him in New Japan, ****¾.
Winner and new IWGP United States Champion: Kenny Omega

IWGP World Heavyweight Championship:
Jay White © (with Gedo) vs. Kazuchika Okada

White shushes the fans and then sarcastically leads an Okada chant. They lock up, White beats his chest against Okada's before giving a clean break. Another lock up leads to Jay slapping the face and taking charge with bruising offense. Okada recovers with a snapmare, but Gedo pulls White to safety. Okada pauses to menace Gedo and White capitalizes with a German suplex. White slows things down to build his heat. White ruthlessly uses the barricade and turnbuckles in his attack, but can't get a pinfall. Okada's desperate DDT buys some time for him to find his second wind. Flapjack by Okada, but he pauses to sell his midsection and misses a running elbow. White capitalizes with shoulder thrusts to the ribcage. Okada dropkicks White from the top rope to outside. Gedo interferes, so Okada DDT's both him and White onto the ramp. Missile dropkick by Okada, but White escapes the Money Clip. DDT by White, then a deadlift German suplex! Brainbuster by White gets 2. Jay blocks a Tombstone by punching the ribs and hits another Brainbuster. Okada starts no-selling Jay's chops and fires back with strong forearms. Dropkick by Okada, Jay gouges the eyes to block the Tombstone. Okada reapplies the Money Clip and then nails the Tombstone. Short-arm Rainmaker by Okada, and back to the Money Clip. Jay foams at the mouth but still gets the ropes. Gedo shields White from a dive, so Okada knocks him down. Okada nails a top rope somersault senton onto White and Gedo! Scoop slam, flying elbow, and Rainmaker Pose by Okada signals the end. White collapses to block the Rainmaker. Gedo interferes again, and White capitalizes with a uranage. Jay hits a suplex over the top rope, followed by a hammerlock suplex. Regal-plex by White gets 2. Bloody Sunday Brainbuster by White, but Okada answers with rolling Germans. Jay rolls through a backslide and eats a Rainmaker. Jay blocks a third Rainmaker, Okada hits a dropkick, White hits his Sister Abigail variation for the first really good nearfall of the match. White hits a pair of “Jaymakers” and mocks Okada's trademark pose. The evil cameraman plays along. Okada pops up for a proper Rainmaker but White kicks out! They slug their way up to their feet. They block finishers until Okada hits a hard DDT. Pump handle slam by Okada, then a legit Rainmaker to win at 33:04! Another long match, this one felt more long winded but really started cooking around the 27 minute mark. Overall, an incredible effort and a fitting main event for a Wrestle Kingdom, ****¼.
Winner and new IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada

Final Thoughts: This was a pretty middling Wrestle Kingdom event but was saved by two great main events. Omega/Ospreay is definitely worth tracking down, it's 35 minutes of mayhem that breeze by. The last few years have been hard on New Japan, I'm not sure leaning on Okada like a crutch as champion is what's best for business in 2023, but I guess we'll have to wait and see. Mild thumbs up for the main events.

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