NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17 | Preview

It is the most wonderful time of the year. It is time once again for Wrestle Kingdom!

The biggest show of the year for New Japan Pro Wrestling is here, NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17 on its traditional January 4th date. We are finally back to one night of Wrestle Kingdom! We have stars from New Japan, WWE, and AEW competing on Wednesday night. We have cheering crowds back at a New Japan event for the first time in nearly three years. We might even be a surprise or two we can bank on.

The Wrestle Kingdom 17 card is a truly stacked card that has been built well over 2022. The main card will have ten matches, eight titles on the line, and an emotional tribute to Antonio Inoki as. As tough as the last few years have been, it will be great to see New Japan getting back to normal in 2023. Here is the preview of Wrestle Kingdom 17:

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17
[Photo: NJPW1972]

KOPW 2023 Qualifier
New Japan Ranbo

 The always enjoyable battle royal will open Wrestle Kingdom. We usually get some surprising returns and New Japan legends making appearances during this fun match. The match has some real stakes.

The final four will compete for the new KOPW trophy at New Year’s Dash. Who will take the KOPW Championship from Shingo Takagi in 2023?

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17
[Photo: NJPW1972]

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17
Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima & Togi Makabe vs Tatsumi Fujinami, Tiger Mask & Minoru Suzuki
(Antonio Inoki Memorial Six-Man Tag Team Match)

 Antonio Inoki, arguably the greatest Japanese professional wrestler of all time, died on October 1, 2022. Inoki was the founder of New Japan in 1972 and its owner until its sale in 2005. He deserved the highest honor by New Japan and will be in this special six-man tag team match.

The match is filled with wrestlers with a link to Inoki. On one side we have Yuki Nagata, Satohsi Kojima and Togi Makabe. They were trained by Inoki. The other team has more of a direct connection to Antonio.

The other team is Tatsumi Fujinami, Tiger Mask, and Minoru Suzuki. Fujinami is the 69-year-old legend who had many classic matches with Inoki. Tiger Mask IV who has been a part of NJPW for decades. And finally, we have Minoru Suzuki, who was trained by Inoki. As the Suzuki-gun stable comes to an end, how will Suzuki act in this emotional match to his former trainer?

[Photo: NJPW1972]

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship:
Catch 2/2 (TJP and Francesco Akira
 (c) vs. CHAOS (Lio Rush & YOH)

The United Empire is looking to have a strong start to 2023. It begins with TJP and Francesco Akira defending the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship.  They won it at New Japan Road on June 20, 2022. They have already defended it twice.  Can they make it three successful defenses in the Tokyo Dome?

Their opponents are members of CHAOS, Lio Rush & YOH. Lio Rush formed a new team with YOH to compete in the Super Junior Tag League. The grueling month-long tournament ended with Lio & YOH defeating Ace Austin & Chris Bey in an epic 21 minute match. They now face the champions at Wrestle Kingdom. They lost a match to the champions in the Super Junior Tag League. Will we see a different result in the Tokyo Dome?

[Photo: NJPW1972]

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17
IWGP Women’s Championship:
KAIRI (c) vs. Tam Nakano

At Historic X-Over, KAIRI defeated Mayu Iwatani to become the first ever IWGP Women’s Champion. It was certainly great to see New Japan finally embrace women’s wrestling and with such a worthy champion. It was a short-lived celebration for KAIRI, however, as Tam Nakano quickly challenged her. 

Tam Nakano, the leader of the Cosmic Angels, is a former Wonder of Stardom Champion. She had her biggest success in STARDOM when KAIRI was off in WWE. Nakano has promised a “special kind of hell” for the champion at Wrestle Kingdom. Knowing Nakano’s background, it certainly seems very possible she could back up that threat on Wednesday night and win the IWGP Women’s Championship.

[Photo: NJPW1972]

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17
IWGP Tag Team Championship:
FTR (Dax Harwood & Cash Wheeler) (c) vs. Bishamon (Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI)

At AEW X NJPW: Forbidden Door, FTR won the IWGP Tag Team Championship in a Three Way Tag Team Match. FTR has successfully defended the title twice since that June night. Currently, they are on a huge losing streak. They have lost their ROH and AAA Tag Team Championships in recent weeks. They have even lost multiple matches on AEW Dynamite. Can they get back on track at Wrestle Kingdom?

The challengers are Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI. Bishamon overcame a tough World Tag League to win this opportunity. They previously held the IWGP Tag Team Championship, winning it at Wrestle Kingdom last year. Can they repeat that feat at back-to-back Wrestle Kingdoms? They are certainly facing a team that is ripe for the picking. 

[Photo: NJPW1972]

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17
NJPW World Television Championship:
Ren Narita vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

It is time for a new championship in New Japan Pro Wrestling! At Wrestle Kingdom, the first-ever NJPW World Television Championship will be crowned. It was created in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the company. The unique stipulation for this title is it has to be fought under a fifteen-minute time limit rule. 

After a grueling sixteen-man tournament, we are down to the final two. One competitor is Zack Sabre Jr. The submission specialist will certainly be willing to take any steps necessary to win his first singles championship in New Japan.

His opponent is the surprising Ren Narita. Narita had only recently returned from an excursion when he entered the tournament and won three tough matches to reach the final. This is easily the biggest match in the 25-year-old’s career. He is ready for the big opportunity? 

[Photo: NJPW1972]

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17
NEVER Openweight Championship:
Karl Anderson (c)
vs. Tama Tonga

Karl Anderson shocked the world when he returned to New Japan Pro Wrestling at Wrestling Dontaku on May 1, 2022. It continued when he won the NEVER Openweight Championship over Tama Tonga at Dominion on June 12th.

But it was taken to a whole different level when Anderson returned to the WWE on October 10th of last year. What would happen to the NEVER Openweight Championship?

After much delay, Anderson defended the championship against Hikuleo at the World Tag League Final in December. Anderson retained the championship that night. As Anderson started to brag, he was quickly interrupted by the former champion Tama Tonga.

Can Tama Tonga win the title back at Wrestle Kingdom? Or will Anderson take the title back to WWE yet again? It will be an interesting storyline to follow on the Tokyo Dome. 

[Photo: NJPW1972]

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17
Keiji Muto, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Shota Umino vs Los Ingobernables De Japon (Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & BUSHI) (Keiji Muto’s Last NJPW Match)

The legendary Keiji Muto is ending a legendary 40-year career in February. But this will be Keiji Muto’s final match in NJPW. He is a four-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion. At Wrestle Kingdom III, he was defeated by Hiroshi Tanahashi in the main event. Tanahashi will be alongside his former rival in this historic six-man tag team match. They are joined by rising young star Shota Umino as well.

Their opponents will be Naito, SANADA, and BUSHI of Los Ingobernables De Japon. Naito famously defeated Muto at Wrestle Kingdom VI in the Tokyo Dome. BUSHI and SANADA got their starts in Muto’s All Japan Pro-Wrestling as well. It should be an emotional match on the biggest stage possible.

[Photo: NJPW1972]

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship:
Taiji Ishimori (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi vs. El Desperado vs. Master Wato

An interesting thing happened with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship in 2022. Taiji Ishimori won the title at Wrestling Dontaku on May 1, 2022. He defended it against Hiromu Takahashi at NJPW New Japan Road 2022 in June. And that is his only defense since winning the title. He is clearly not a “fighting champion.”

At Wrestle Kingdom 17, he will have to defeat the title against three challengers. El Desperado, the previous champion who, is desperate to win the belt again. Hiromu Takahashi, who did defeat Ishimori in the Best of Super Junior 27 A Block final night.

And Master Wato, who shocked the world by defeating Ishimori in a non-title singles match at the Declaration of Power show. All three have a legit reason why they should be champion and finally get a chance in the dangerous Four Way Match. How can the champion possibly survive? 

[Photo: NJPW1972]

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17
IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship:
Will Ospreay (c) vs. Kenny Omega

This could be the match of the year in 2003, and it is occurring on January 4th in the Tokyo Dome. Will Ospreay is arguably the best pro wrestler in the world and has proven it with an unbelievable schedule in 2022. He has defended the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship on four occasions since winning the vacant title at Dominion. But he is about to face his biggest test to date.

It was certainly a shock to see a video message from AEW’s Kenny Omega. Kenny Omega was at the forefront of bringing New Japan back into prominence in the late 2010s having many epic matches. He left the company after Wrestle Kingdom 13 to help in the creation of All Elite Wrestling. He has beaten Ospreay in their only singles encounter and even defeated him during the AEW Trios Tournament last August. It is now time for Omega’s first New Japan match in four years.

Kenny Omega wants to prove himself to be the “Best Bout Machine” again and regain the United States Heavyweight Championship. Will Ospreay wants to finally take down his long-time rival. When you have two of arguably the best wrestlers facing off with such high stakes it could be a special night.

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17
[Photo: NJPW1972]

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship:
Jay White (c) vs. Kazuchika Okada

The main event is a unique one for Kazuchika Okada. “The Rainmaker” is arguably the greatest wrestler in the history of New Japan Pro Wrestling. He has held six world titles in the company. But he has one opponent that seems to have an advantage over him: Jay White.

At Wrestling Dontaku in May 2022, Jay White returned to attack IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Okada. This got him a title shot at Dominion where he won the title for the very first time. He has bragged about creating AEW and demanded respect from the pro wrestling world since winning the title.

He will face Kazuchika Okada after “The Rainmaker” won the G1 Climax. White holds a 4-1 record over Okada in singles matches. Can Okada finally overcome White in the biggest state possible? It is hard to say and Jay White has defeated Okada at a previous Wrestle Kingdom. It should be a great way to end a truly historic event.