–3-Minute Exhibition: Ryohei Oiwa vs. Oleg Boltin – Draw – NR/5 – This was silly.
–NJ Ranbo: SHO, Great O-Khan, Toru Yano & Shingo Takagi were the final four – 2.75/5 – Most talent I’ve seen in the annual “Ranbo” in a long time, but no surprises– despite being a KOPW qualifier, it focused far less on comedy than usual. I’m assuming many of the bigger names will have bigger matches at the 2nd night of WK in Yokohama on Jan 21.
–Togi Makabe, Yuji Nagata & Satoshi Kojima vs. Tiger Mask, Minoru Suzuki & Tatsumi Fujinami – 2.25/5 – An alright showcase of near cripples, but the highlight was the fact that Makabe’s “Immigrant Song” was not overdubbed!
–IWGP Junior Tag Title: TJP & Francesco Akira vs. YOH & Lio Rush – 3.5-3.75/5 – Really good opener, lots of high risk moves, great chemistry and furious tag action for 10.
–IWGP Women’s Title: KAIRI vs. Tam Nakano – 3.25-3.5/5 – One of the better 6-minute matches you’ll watch all year. KAIRI kicked out of a Steiner Screwdriver, nailed the cutlas and Insane Elbow then Sash.. Mercedes Mone made her New Japan debut… while they totally missed on the spin-out Gory bomb, but it was still a cool segment– despite Sasha’s new silly Nicky Minaj Egyptian haircut and entrance…
–IWGP Hvy Tag Titles: YOSHI-HASHI & Hirooki Goto vs. Dax Harwood & Cash Wheeler – 3.75/5 – Loved the match, but hardly a memorable title run for FTR in New Japan. Anyone else get the feeling they’re on their way back to the ‘E? IDK; something is up…
–NJPW World TV Title: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Ren Narita – 3.75/5 – I hate when a “TV” title gets defended on.. PPV/streaming service. Doesn’t really make sense. Why do we need a TV title? Why does EVERYONE in every fed have a belt. Too many titles in New Japan, AEW, etc. Anyway, Zack v. Narita was excellent, and another match cut short. 10-minutes… but it DID have a 15-min limit.
–NEVER Openweight Title: Tama Tonga vs. Karl Anderson – 3.5/5 – Another strong title match around or under 10-minutes; they really told a good story, and it’s no surprise that the recent WWE re-signee dropped the strap to his rl buddy. I really liked this, but the cutter finish was far from clean.
–Shota Umino, Keiji Muto & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. BUSHI, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito – 3/5 – Muto’s send-off was a fun little 6-man, and it also put over Umino in the process.
–IWGP Jr. Hvy Title: Hiromu Takahashi vs. Master Wato, Taiji Ishimori & El Desperado – 3.75-4/5 – Will probably go down as the most underrated match on the show! This is by far the best I’ve ever seen from Wato. Dude looks pretty special. Loved this and want to watch it again.
–IWGP United States Title: Kenny Omega vs. Will Ospreay – 5/5 (or 7/5 IDGAF) – Now, following about 5 years or so of existence, the IWGP U.S. title finally feels super legit. It’s always had its moments, but after what might go down as one of the best if not most brutal matches of all time, how could it not now? The problem: it’s gonna be real hard for ANYTHING to follow this match in 2023– nevermind the “main event”.. For nerds bonus: Kenny entered the ring to a Final Fantasy score and dressed up as Sepheroth. Just sick.
–IWGP World Hvy Title: Kazuchika Okada vs. Jay White – 4.25/5 – A great match as you’d expect in the least, and def their smoothest worked bout since MSG (which I attended live). Took 10 mins to get going but was enough to keep me awake just before 4am — so that’s saying something. And that Rainmaker! That was MEAN. Def a stamp placed on the rivalry. I know people “LOL’d” because Okada always seems to win at the Dome, but he had to here. Him doing the Blade Runner was a nice touch. I just felt bad that they had to follow a 7-star match. I’m guessing Jay will get kicked out of the Club now?
Matches (with pre-show) = 3.75/5; (without pre-show) = 4/5
Entertainment = 4/5 (enough to keep me awake until 4:30am PT — I even watched the post-match scrum; they let people cheer, at least a large section of them, and Kevin Kelly was great as always; I really wish Chris Charlton would take off his damn Covid mask b/c he sounds so muffled… ehh.. and Gino is OK; i’d rather hear him on house shows. I miss Rocky — who appeared in the final match — and Don Callis was a big addition for the US Title match)
Overall = 4/5 Highball Whiskeys
The best Wrestle Kingdom since I attended the first ever 2-nighter at WK14 in January of 2020. As far as the amount of great (4+ star matches), the undercard doesn’t touch those two nights, but it feels light years better than WK15 & WK16 — and, here, we got the greatest gaijin match in Japan of all time, a nice Junior Heavyweight fatal 4-way and a symbolic end (??) to New Japan’s most storied Covid-era IWGP Heavyweight rivalry.