Wrestle Kingdom 11, New Japan’s biggest show of 2017, is only a few weeks away, and after a press conference in Japan this morning we now know the full match lineup. Wrestle Kingdom is typically one of the best major shows in the entire industry, with New Japan’s top stars going all out to have the most exciting matches they can possibly endure. This past January’s installment featured two of the best matches of the year, with Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi facing off in an all-time classic for the IWGP Heavyweight championship, and current WWE stars AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura dishing out one last amazing match for New Japan before both departing. This year’s show will miss Styles and Nakamura, but their departures have opened up the main event scene for Kenny Omega and Tetsuya Naito, who have more than risen to the occasion throughout 2016.
As we’ve known since he won the G1 Climax tournament back in August, Omega will be challenging the IWGP Heavyweight champion Okada in the show’s main event. Naito, the leader of the red hot Los Ingobernables de Japon stable, will defend his IWGP Intercontinental Championship against Tanahashi, who has long been New Japan’s top star. Much like the top two matches of last year’s show, these main events could easily wind up as two of the best matches of 2017, arriving only four days into the year.
The rest of the card features the rest of New Japan’s top stars in a variety of match-ups, from Japanese stalwarts like Katsuyori Shibata and Tomohiro Ishii, to their regular contracted foreigners like the Young Bucks and Will Ospreay. There’s also a Ring of Honor title match scheduled between brand new champion Kyle O’Reilly and the previous champ Adam Cole, who closed out ROH’s recent Final Battle pay-per-view with one of the bloodiest brawls of the year.
Perhaps the two biggest points of intrigue will involve Cody Rhodes’s New Japan debut and the preliminary match featuring Tiger Mask W. Rhodes, the son of wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes, famously left WWE earlier this year after years of dissatisfaction. He’s wrestled all over the world, for almost every notable non-WWE promotion and many more, but New Japan will be his biggest test yet in his quest to prove he’s a top-tier wrestler. His opponent, Juice Robinson, is a former NXT development wrestler (you might know him as CJ Parker) who has noticeably improved since becoming a New Japan regular. They should be able to have a good match together, but fans hoping to see Rhodes wrestle a Japanese talent like Shibata, Ishii or SANADA will have to be patient.
Tiger Mask W is a fascinating story because of who played the masked cartoon character in its New Japan debut. Kota Ibushi, one of the top stars in all of Japanese wrestling, resigned from New Japan in February 2016 while recovering from injury. After freelancing for a few promotions in Japan and America, and competing in WWE’s fantastic Cruiseweight Classic tournament over the summer, Ibushi made a surprising and unofficial return to New Japan in October under guise of Tiger Mask W. Will Ibushi once again be under the mask at Wrestle Kingdom 11, or will another wrestler be playing the role this time? We’ll find out on January 4.
Here’s the full roster of matches announced for Wrestle Kingdom 11, which can be watched on the New Japan World streaming service live on January 4. As with most major New Japan World shows, there will be an English language commentary channel, with commentary from Ring of Honor’s Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino (who is WWE-bound himself).
1. New Japan Rumble: The opener is a Royal Rumble-style match featuring all the New Japan contracted wrestlers not already on the show, along with a few surprises and old-timers.
2. Tiger Mask W vs. Tiger the Dark
3. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship match: The Young Bucks (champions) vs. Rocky Romero and Baretta
4. NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship match with gauntlet rules featuring:
SANADA, EVIL and BUSHI
Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi and Hangman Page
Tomohiro Ishii, YOSHI-HASHI and Will Ospreay
Satoshi Kojima, Ricochet and David Finlay (champions)
5. Cody Rhodes vs. Juice Robinson
6. ROH World Championship match: Kyle O’Reilly (champion) vs. Adam Cole
7. IWGP Tag Team Championship match: Tama Tonga and Tanga Roa (champions) vs. Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma
8. IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship match: KUSHIDA (champion) vs. Hiromu Takahashi (aka Kamaitachi)
9. NEVER Openweight Championship match: Katsuyori Shibata (champion) vs. Hirooki Goto
10. IWGP Intercontinental Championship match: Tetsuya Naito (champion) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
11. IWGP World Heavyweight Championship match: Kazuchika Okada (champion) vs. Kenny Omega