The first wrestling PPV of 2017 was New Japan’s annual WRESTLE KINGDOM. I’ve only watched a few of these as they aired, and this is the first year I’ve watched with English commentary, but this has to be the most exciting NJPW show I’ve ever seen. There’s something about having Kenny Omega, an official #MachoChilling representative, changing the world by being in the main event. He may look like the illegitimate son of Diamond Dallas Page, but he becomes more impressive with every opponent he takes to the limit of their potential.
Wrestle Kingdom reminded me why I started this whole “Jeff Refs” gimmick in the first place. Wrestling is the baddest ass art form there has ever been.
First Star – Kenny Omega vs IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada
This match shows why wrestling is the greatest of all sports. It had that HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT feel the whole way through. OKADA pulling out the table to show he’d do anything to beat Omega, but neither of them would allow their posse to get involved. It was poetry in motion just like every wrestling match aims to be.
The setting, the match, even the commentary were all perfection. Could Kenny Omega change history? I didn’t know how badly I wanted to see him walk out of that Dome with the title until he kicked out of that first RAINMAKER. Every subsequent LARIAT made me more nervous for THE CLEANER’s impending doom. It’s January, and just in-time for Playoff football there’s the IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match to get us all prepared emotionally.
Second Star – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion KUSHIDA vs Hiromu Takahashi
This match was fiction boiled down to its purest form. Kushida , a hero, must overcome an opponent who is like him in so many ways, but also represents his antithesis. Takahashi reminds me of Heath Ledger’s Joker portrayal, with his “TICKING TIME BOMB” shtick. He just wants to drive KUSHIDA, his Batman, to the crossroads of good and evil.
Before it was all over, Takahashi had KUSHIDA more focused on inflicting pain than actually winning the match. This was the turning point for the villain, even though it seemed it would lead to his demise. All this is going on while both dudes were flying around the arena trying to kill one another. KUSHIDA can do so much more without having to carry Alex Shelley these days, and I need more Takahashi in my life.
Third Star – NEVER Openweight Champion Katsuyori Shibata v Hirooki GOTO
These two remind me of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. They seem to be best friends who always end up fighting each other to the top of their potential. Shibata, who looks more like Zayn frame-wise, is the antagonizing friend who can’t help push his former partner’s emotional buttons. Each slap, kick, suplex trying to help him become the fighting machine only his best friend can see inside him.
Goto overcame his more brutal compadre, but at what cost? This match seemed more emotional than anything else on the card, which isn’t selling the rest of Wrestle Kingdom short. These two, combined with Steve Corino’s commentary, were as raw as it gets in the ring. On any other night this would be the first star of a show.
Toru Yano – The more mischevous he gets, the better Yano is. He’s the only person on the entire show I felt bad for while he was getting beat up. I’m always happy to see him overcoming the odds, even though he had Ishii on his team, so how bad could the odds have been?
Red Shoes – The dude is a legend in the zebra game (despite wearing no stripes) for a reason. He puts up with so much, sells like a champ, and helps tell the story without ever getting in the way. Cheers to the ref in the red shoes.
Cody Rhodes – Lived the American Dream by getting that big Tokyo Dome win.
Naito – On a night where titles were dropped left and right, then right and left, Naito kept his. The same title he throws around like a paper airplane. Beating “Big Match Tana” is always worth a shout-out.