NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11 Live Thoughts

January 4, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan

During my first trip to Japan I had to travel back during Wrestle Kingdom, so I was extremely excited to actually be able to attend this year. While I generally prefer shows where I can get reasonably close to the ring and really enjoy the benefits of being there live, stadium shows are unique and different experiences in their own right and attending Japan’s biggest wrestling show of the year (at a venue like the Tokyo Dome no less) was definitely a bucket list item for me.

I was happy to have an opportunity to check it off, and had a great time. The atmosphere was unlike any event I’ve been to before and it was a good show with several great highlights.

 

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That said I have to admit I don’t necessarily feel any need to do it again, despite having a lot of fun and enjoying the show. It’s simply too long and the novelty of being at a 27,000 person show won’t be as strong the second time around. As mentioned I enjoy experiencing the energy of live wrestling much closer to the ring. If I have the chance in the future I think I’d rather try to catch their follow up Korukeun Hall show instead next time around.

I’m not going to try to run down or separate thoughts on all 11 matches and do a full review here. My memory’s simply not up to it, and watching from the very top of the Tokyo Dome seats meant I was getting more general impressions than details at certain points anyway.

The pre-show New Japan Rumble was amusing mostly due to the lineup, ranging from Jushin Thunder Liger to Scott Norton to Billy Gunn to Cheeseburger (seriously…). Michael Elgin is extremely over in NJPW, so having him come in and destroy some guys to win it was a good call.

 

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The undercard was the appropriate mix of styles and stories. I don’t recall anything being actively bad, but to be honest I found both Cody Rhodes debut and the ROH title match flat. Both would have benefitted from having Japanese talent involved, although I do acknowledge I’m in the minority of the audience in that Adam Cole vs Kyle O’Reilly in particular is a match I can (and have) see repeatedly in the states. Still, I don’t think it had the impact intended. I understand the benefit to ROH of changing their title at such a big international event, but as one of eight title matches (and one of six title changes) it got lost in the midcard and fell flat. It was also seemed a rather average outing from the two regular opponents to me.

The midcard in general was good but blended together a bit. Standout moments in my memory are a strong finish to the Young Bucks vs Roppongi Vice match, and being annoyed with Yano’s antics and thus disappointed when his team won the tag team championship.

 

At an event like this the top of the card is always where the strongest matches belong, and NJPW pulled that off in spades. The top four contests were all singles title matches filled with wrestlers the crowd went wild for.

The IWGP Jr. Heavyweight title match between Kushida (c) and Hiromu Takahashi was good but spotty, with way too many dangerous looking head drops for my tastes. The story here was escalation, and I think they overdid it. Both competitors looked a bit loopy at times, and it was hard to enjoy this while more and more afraid for the wrestlers’ safety the longer this went. The rest of the crowd was hot for it though, so your milage may vary.

I felt the three matches that followed walked the line better, building increasing drama without going overbaord (ok, the main gets more of a pass on that for being the main). Katsuyouri Shibata (c) vs Hirooki Goto’s NEVER Openweight title match was a tense, hard hitting affair. I’ve heard some comments that it wasn’t the best match the two have had as opponents, but it was the first time I personally was seeing that pairing and I was impressed.

 

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In what I’m sure will be a largely disputed opinion best of the night honors from me go to the semi-main between Tetsuya Naito (c) and Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental title, who built an amazing back and forth struggle from start to finish.  The tension gradually ramped to build to a perfect crescendo. Naito is in such command of his character now and the little touches he brings to his performances are a joy to see. Tanahashi is as always wrestling’s rock star. Definitive win for Naito too, which was 100% the right call.

So of course if Naito vs Tanahashi is my match of the night then (in my opinion) the main event IWGP Heavyweight title match isn’t the the industry redefining match it’s been described as, and certainly not the greatest match of all time. That’s not to take anything away from Kazuchika Okada (c) and Kenny Omega: it was fantastic. It’s just the hyperbole has been out of control regarding this match. The semi main built more smoothly  in my opinion. Here they had a good first half of a match that felt largely unconnected to the phenomenal second half once they really kicked into gear. Again, still excellent though.

 

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Overall

Great show that was just too long for me to enjoy to the fullest extent live. The top of the card hit it out of the park though and reenergized me, and it’ll be easier to watch on replay (with the ability to watch in pieces) anyway. Easy recommendation on the strength of the top 3 matches alone, which are all well worth going out of your way to see.

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