Before Wrestlemania, and hell before the Royal Rumble, there is no wrestling event that kick starts the New Year quite like Wrestle Kingdom by New Japan Pro Wrestling. Having become more widespread since Wrestle Kingdom 9, thanks to localisations efforts and the inclusion of an English color commentary team (which was great in Wrestle Kingdom 9 but certainly left A LOT to be desired in Wrestle Kingdom 10). We are now getting ready for Wrestle Kingdom 11, set to take place on January 4 2017 (January 5 for those living in the Outback) inside the one and only historic Tokyo Dome. It’s been said many times before, but this is Japan’s equivalent of Wrestlemania being held in New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Wrestle Kingdom 11 certainly has a lot of buzz for it, but the star power is lacking… thanks mainly due to some of the biggest NJPW stars of the last 5 years now becoming fixtures of WWE. So much of what made Wrestle Kindgom amazing is now missing, with the likes of AJ Styles as the current WWE Champion, Bullet Club founder Finn Balor, Kotha Ibushi playing a big role in WWE’s Cruiser Weight Classic, Bullet Club’s iconic duo of Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows, and more importantly Mr. Wrestle Kingdom himself: the incomparable 5 time IWGP Intercontinental Champion Shinsuke Nakaruma. These performers have now become the biggest stars of WWE, which means NJPW is left in a scrambling state so to speak.
Still, NJPW still has Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika “Rainmaker” Okada. These amazing performers headlined the last two Wrestle Kingdom events, and honestly I would have gladly taken a match #3 for Wrestle Kingdom 11. Maybe some day this amazing series will see a rubber match, but as it stands now Hiroshi Tanashi and The Rainmaker will main event two respective matches: Tanahashi battling for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship and Okada closing the show in a battle for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
What’s concerning me at this point is this: Bullet Club has been reduced to a comedy routine at this point, akin to The New Day, and they’re essentially dominating the Wrestle Kingdom card from bottom to top, in particular the current leader Kenny Omega being the number 1 contender to the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and going up against The Rainmaker.
Not a knock on Kenny Omega at all, I quite enjoyed his matches for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship in Wrestle Kingdom 9 and 10… but how do you suddenly sky rocket to the main event for the biggest prize? Well that’s what happens when you’re working with a depleted roster. Still, I hope this match up exceeds expectations. I am more excited to see Tanahashi clash with Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, these two men are near equals in wrestling style and ability, not to mention Naito was voted as the best wrestler of 2016 in Japan.
The undercard has a jarring match that is almost indicative of the depleting starpower of the NJPW roster: Tiger Mask vs Tiger Mask Dark in what is essentially a live action reenactment of the Tiger Mask W anime series (sponsored by NJPW). Kayfabe within kayfabe is just too much kayfabe! But it isn’t the first time as there was once a wrestler portraying Wolf (from Virtua Fighter) in All Japan Pro Wrestling. Certainly one of the weirder occurrences in mainstream pro wrestling this side of The Deletion. Another notable inclusion in the undercard is the debut of the American Nightmare: Cody Rhodes, son of the legendary Dusty Rhodes and a former WWE Intercontinental Champion.
Full Wrestle Kingdom 11 match card from Wikipedia below: