January 4th, 2017 - Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan - Attendance: 26,192
This year, I was fortunate enough to be in Japan for New Years. So, without any hesitation, I bought myself a ticket to Wrestle Kingdom 11 and was able to see the show live. I figured it was a good idea to go big or go home for this event, so I dressed in full Macho Man Randy Savage gear for the show.
Being in costume at Wrestle Kingdom 11 was both a funny and different experience. Japanese people enjoyed the costume, but a vast majority of them were too timid to say anything and just smiled or said “cool!” I did, however, manage to find an enthused crowd that matched the rowdiness of an American crowd.
Outside the arena was a madhouse of lines in 20-plus gates. Luckily, I studied Japanese a decade ago and was able to ask security guards for help on where to go. I think if I didn’t ask them, I probably would have been stuck waiting in the wrong line.
Once I got to my gate, I saw it was reserved specifically for anyone who purchased a ticket online. So, a good chunk of people in our seating area were foreigners from the US, Ireland, and England. There was a great crowd inside the arena, 26,192 people to be exact. Upon arrival, it felt like I was attending a spectacle.
Michael Elgin won the New Japan Rumble at 25:13
The pre-show was exactly how you thought it would be. A fun match featuring legends and wrestlers not on the card. Some of the noted entrants in the rumble were: Billy Gunn, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask IV, and Scott Norton. Scott Norton and Jushin Thunder Liger got huge pops from the crowd. The end of the match had a funny spot with Michael Elgin and Cheeseburger, where you thought for a brief moment maybe Cheeseburger might win. But, Michael Elgin quickly disposed of him and won the Rumble. The win should give Elgin a launching pad to challenge Naito (the man who broke his face) for the Intercontinental title.
Tiger Mask W defeated Tiger Dark in 6:34 – Singles Match
Only in Japan would you see a real-life match based off anime characters. I was a little disappointed in this match, mainly because I thought it was a waste of Kota Ibushi. There were a couple of memorable high spots like the Triangle Moonsault, and a Tiger Driver Golden Star Powerbomb, but overall, the match had some awkward pacing and just kind of ended abruptly. Hopefully, we’ll get to see Kota Ibushi be himself soon.
Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero & Beretta) defeated The Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson) (c) in 12:57 – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship Match
This match was much funnier than I thought it would be. A good chunk of it was The Young Bucks joking around and doing some funny spots, like accidentally kicking each other and moving away from suicide dives. Personally, I thought The Young Bucks carried the majority of the match and were the team most people in the crowd were invested in. Towards the end, Rocky Romero had a moment to shine as he was put in a 2 on 1 scenario against the Bucks. It was a good bit of storytelling because in the past, Romero was the one losing all the matches for Roppongi Vice. Overall there were some great high spots, and the finish came in an unexpected & dramatic fashion that I enjoyed.
Los Ingobernables de Japón (SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI) defeated Satoshi Kojima, Ricochet & David Finlay (c), CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Will Ospreay & Jado) & Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi) in 16:06 – Never Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship Gauntlet Match
This was another match that turned out exactly how you thought it would be. One after another, a new high spot would top another high spot. The Bullet Club came out first, and Yujiro Takahashi had an entrance that would have made The Godfather proud. The MVPs of this match were Ricochet and Will Ospreay. These two were performing some consecutive high-spots that got the crowd really excited. The crowd really wanted team CHAOS to win, especially Jado, and became a little deflated after they were eliminated. When the final 2 teams (Ricochet’s team & Los Ingobernables) were left, the match really kicked into a second gear and the crowd became engaged again. Overall, the high spots made this match exciting and a fun match worth watching.
Cody defeated Juice Robinson in 9:37 – Singles Match
Both Cody Rhodes and Juice Robinson looked good here. Cody was especially much more charismatic as a Bullet Club heel. The crowd, however, was coming down from the spotfest of the last match, and was a bit quiet at the start. Towards the middle, a loud “LETS GO CODY” chant broke out, which was nice to hear. The story here was Cody working over Juice Robinson’s left knee. It was a solid offering but it felt somewhat like a TV spot. I would argue the highlight of the match came at the end, when Cody started celebrating on the railing out of nowhere. Both myself and the crowd popped off hard when that happened.
Adam Cole defeated Kyle O'Reilly (c) in 10:14 – ROH World Championship Match
First off, the crowd loved Adam Cole’s “Adam Cole. BAY BAY!” entrance. There was a funny moment early in the match where Cole tried to perform that taunt numerous times only to be interrupted every time by O’Reilly. When Cole was final able to yell “ADAM COLE” the crowd erupted in a loud “BAY BAY” chant. O’Reilly did a great job of making his strikes look as hard-hitting as possible, and Cole played a great heel. Cole ended up winning with four superkicks to the head and his Last Shot finisher. I especially loved the look of shock on Cole’s face when he won at the end of the match. It did a great job of convincing me and the crowd, that even he wasn’t expecting to win at the moment he did.
CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) defeated Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Roa) (c) & GBH (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma) in 12:24 – IWGP Tag Team Championship 3-Way Match
The crowd really wanted GBH to win this one. The involvement of Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano brought an interesting dynamic into the match, where both of the other teams worked together and dispatched of them quickly. However, I would have preferred if it was just between G.O.D and GBH. The Guerillas did a great job of putting their mean streak on full display and helped keep the pace going. There was a great moment where GBH fired up a comeback and the crowd got really into it. At the end, it looked like GBH was going to win it, but then Yano came out of nowhere with a pair of nutshots. Some of the crowd around me groaned at the finish, while others enjoyed the shock value of it.
Hiromu Takahashi defeated KUSHIDA (c) in 16:14 – IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship Match
From here onward, the crowd became very invested in every single match on the card. Everybody was ready for this, and you could feel the hype in the arena. Takahashi had a great intro coming down to the ring, filled with fireworks and an emphasis that he was a “Ticking Time Bomb”. KUSHIDA came down to the ring more stoic than usual. From the moment the match started, you could tell these two exemplify a great example of Yin & Yang. KUSHIDA is precise and meticulous, while Takahashi is unpredictable and unrefined.
The crowd was fired up for Takahashi’s debut and he did great job playing a crazy & disrespectful heel. The match told a great story between Takahashi & KUSHIDA. For all of Takahashi’s disrespectful antics, KUSHIDA would remained unfazed and try to continually diffuse the “Ticking Time Bomb”. There were some incredibly dangerous spots, one in particular was Takahashi going for a diving senton from the top turnbuckle to the outside. The best spot came when Takahashi leaped to the outside and KUSHIDA was able to catch him mid-air with an armbar.
The story towards the end was my favorite part of the match. KUSHIDA kept working over Takahashi’s arm, to the point where I started to wonder 'Is Takahashi actually going to tap out?' It became very tense, and we all wondered if KUSHIDA was actually going to break Takahashi. KUSHIDA focused on the arm with vicious kicks, multiple Hoverboard locks, armbars, and a top rope Hoverboard lock. Despite all of KUSHIDA’s efforts, Takahashi was able to win with a corner DVD and a Time Bomb. Great match and great story-telling that the whole crowd was firmly invested in.
Hirooki Goto defeated Katsuyori Shibata (c) in 16:17 – NEVER Openweight Championship Match
This match was the definition of strong style. The crowd really wanted Shibata to win, and were chanting his name the second he came out to the ring. It started with a feeling out process between both competitors, and then escalated quickly. Shibata was no-selling some of Goto’s hardest kicks while firing up and the crowd ate it up. These two guys looked like they were trying to legitimately kill each other.
There was a flurry of stiff headbutts, forearms, clotheslines, and kicks. Shibata even managed to kick out of a Shouten Kai. However, he ended up falling short as Goto ended up victorious after hitting a GTR. I personally loved this match, but would have loved to have seen Shibata win. Hopefully this loss means that Shibata will be moving on to fighting for the Intercontinental and Heavyweight titles. Also shoutouts to Chuck Taylor for the Tweet of the Night.
Tetsuya Naito (c) defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi in 25:25 – IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match
Tanahashi came out to his new entrance music, featuring a singalong – “Go Ace!” It wasn’t as good as his old theme, but it was still catchy. Naito had one of the best entrances of the night, when the giant screen turned into a giant eye. He came out wearing a suit, looking as apathetic as humanly possible.
The crowd was yelling nonstop throughout the entire match and it featured the best psychology out of any match on the card. Naito was playing the up-and-coming, disrespectful cool guy on point, and Tanahashi was playing the established veteran out to remind everyone he was still the man. Naito spat in Tanahashi’s face and taunted him, to which Tanahashi would taunt right back. Both men went after the leg and both men sold the injured leg very well.
The beginning reminded me an old-school wrestling match, where high spots weren’t important and pacing & psychology were. There was an amazing point where Tanahashi hit an apron slingblade. I can’t stress enough how the crowd was yelling for every move, like they knew every hit mattered.
The ending sequence involved a Dragon Suplex from Tanahashi, followed by a High Fly Flow. Tanahashi goes for an immediate second attempt but then is met with Naito’s knees. Naito then hits a Destino and then hits another Destino for the win.
This was an amazing match with some great old school pacing and psychology that I thought was a refreshing breath of fresh air. It reminded me of Bret Hart vs Stone Cold at Wrestlemania 13, where every hit mattered and enforced story telling. On a side note, the Japanese people behind me were such big Tanahashi fans that they left the arena in disgust as soon as he lost. It was awesome to see such passionate fandom and I wish I had recorded their reaction.
Kazuchika Okada (c) defeated Kenny Omega in 46:49 – IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match
Kenny Omega came out to the ring with a Terminator style entrance that had all the foreign fans in the crowd clapping the Terminator theme. Okada’s entrance was equally, if not more awesome. When Okada came out to the ring, the giant LED screen turned into a golden gate that slowly opened up with him coming out of the gate. As Okada came out, fake cash soared through the arena and the crowd erupted.
I was not the biggest fan of the first 15 minutes, though. A lot of the moves were just holds, and felt like they were merely buying time. The crowd was also still coming off of the amazing match Tanahashi & Naito had, and weren’t really making too much noise during the first 15 minutes of this match. So if Omega & Okada were taking it slow to let the crowd catch their breath, I could completely understand that.
Once the table was introduced, the pace picked up. Omega started dominating on the offense and it looked like he was really trying to kill Okada with all of his knee strikes. Omega hit the Ibushi Triangle Moonsault over a railing, which was a spectacle to see. Then Omega found himself getting back body dropped from the ring to the outside table, in what was an absolutely brutal spot. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more brutal, Omega then hit Okada with a top rope Dragon Suplex. My jaw actually dropped at the sight of seeing that move performed from the top rope.
The final 10 minutes was amazing and unrelenting. It was a continuous exchange of high-impact moves and counters after counters. Kenny Omega was mercilessly hitting Okada with one V-Trigger after another, and Okada just kept kicking out every pin attempt. Omega would go for his finish, only to have Okada counter and go for a Rainmaker, only to have Omega counter. After continuous attempts Okada finally hits a Rainmaker and Omega inexplicably kicks out at 2. In an amazing exchange, Omega goes for his finish one more time and Okada counters and hits him with a half-strength Rainmaker. Instead of pinning Omega, Okada hangs onto his wrist and goes for Rainmaker after Rainmaker, which Omega counters with some very stiff looking kicks. However, Okada never lets go of Omega’s wrist and kept swinging away until he finally hits him with a devastating Rainmaker. It was an exhausting final 10 minutes, in the best way.
One thing worth noting was that Omega was never able to hit his finish on Okada, which will come into play whenever they rematch. Kenny Omega perfectly played the part of a crazed challenger, willing to throw his body for the championship. But Okada was his perfect foil, an indestructible man with too much lose.
Wrestle Kingdom 11 was an amazing show, and I still can’t believe I was lucky enough to be in Japan while it happened. The undercard was underwhelming at times and lulled the crowd, but overall was very solid. I’d like to reiterate that all of the final four matches were incredible. I loved the production value of the show, and it really captured the feeling of it being Japan’s version of WrestleMania. It was interesting to attend because wrestling really felt more like a Sport in Japan, and less like an entertainment show. To close the article, here’s a picture of me at the arena dressed as Macho Man Randy Savage. Puroresu, dig it brother.