While I’m sure many of us who stayed up are on our second (or third) cup of coffee – New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 17 officially kicked off 2023 in pretty good fashion. This was a solid show with a much-anticipated debut, a way-too-early match-of-the-year candidate, and a heavyweight championship title change that seems right given the occasion. I’ll share some quick thoughts.
Mercedes Moné Has Arrived
It was the worst-kept secret for weeks leading up to Wrestle Kingdom, but Sas...excuse me – Mercedes Moné made her debut after KAIRI beat Tam Nakano for the IWGP Women’s title. I’m sure it will take some getting used to – both for fans and Moné herself. The look and presentation were the right calls displaying her top star status. The move she hit on KAIRI fell apart (I’ll chalk it up to ring rust). Her inclusion will generate interest in Battle in the Valley in San Jose on Feb. 18th. I hope it brings more eyes to the terrific Joshi wresting over at Stardom.
Kenny Omega vs. Will Ospreay Delivers
Going into Wrestle Kingdom 17, this was one of the matches I was least worried about in terms of quality. Kenny looked like his old self. There may be something to the adage of him hitting another gear when he’s in New Japan. Ospreay upped his game, too. At times, this match was brutal (the exposed turnbuckle DDT spot, anyone). Ospreay was cut open. Omega had a closed eye. I don’t think this will be the last singles match between them.
Yup. Okada Wins.
As expected, Kazuchika Okada gains his second IWGP World Heavyweight Championship reign. With his tribute to Antonio Inoki and being the top guy in NJPW, this was a given. He and Jay White had another good match between them. They both had the task of following the Ospreay/Okada match beforehand. Bullet Club has no titles, and it was interesting to see White's post-match reaction with Okada. Could this mean White’s days as BC leader is coming to an end? We’ll see.
As for Okada, Shingo Takagi laid down the challenge. I want to see New Japan shake up the main event scene this year and have Okada face some different wrestlers.
WRESTLE KINGDOM 17 (1/4)を公開‼️— njpwworld (@njpwworld) January 4, 2023
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FTR and Karl Anderson Lose Their Belts
We had a Never Openweight and IWGP tag titles reset. Karl Anderson put more effort into this WK match with Tama Tonga and ended his current NJPW run with a good sendoff as Tonga went over. With him being in the WWE, this should be no surprise. FTR’s future is a bit muddier, given that their current future with AEW is not locked.
Their tag team belt conquest is finito losing to Bishamon (Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI). It’s a shame they didn’t get the AEW belts (but that’s another story for another day).
- I can’t wait to see how the war between LIJ and NOAH’s Kongo shakes out.
- Good for Zack Sabre Jr. on winning the IWGP TV Title. I hope NJPW features the new belt and ZSJ the way it should.
- The crowd was ready for that Master Wato win. NJPW likes to book those moments a year after – so maybe 2024?