The first major pay-per-view of the year, Wrestle Kingdom 11, already set a very high bar for other promotions to match or exceed. From the multiple suspenseful title changes, to the six-star match between Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega, the annual show in the Tokyo Dome was a fantastic pro wrestling exhibition. Since the inception of the Wrestle Kingdom series, New Japan Pro Wrestling has given fans some of the best matches every year.
Along with Okada vs. Omega, another match that was one of the best of the night was for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. The reigning champion KUSHIDA defended his championship against Hiromu Takahashi. Takahashi spent the first few years of his pro wrestling career in NJPW before gaining popularity in CMLL – as the masked Kamaitachi – and eventually won the World Lightweight Championship. He would then spend some time in Ring of Honor under the tutelage of the Addiction, particularly Christopher Daniels.
This momentum led to a return to NJPW, vying to capture KUSHIDA’s IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. Takahashi was able to gain a pinfall over KUSHIDA weeks before Wrestle Kingdom 11, and the championship match was official.
New Japan Pro Wrestling has been shown on AXS TV, formerly HDNet, since 2014. Although the series airs footage from episodes of NJPW from months before, sometimes even longer, it was recently announced that Wrestle Kingdom 11 would be shown in part on February 3. The show will feature the match between KUSHIDA and Takahashi.
A.V. Club described the match as laying the groundwork for a potentially legendary feud.
“This match had a special air about it before the bell even rang. Takahashi, in his first major singles match since setting the wrestling world on fire with his all-time-great feud against CMLL’s Dragon Lee and returning to New Japan late last year, strolled to the ring like the grimy rockstar that he is. Kushida, in turn, was not his usual lively self. His slow, cautious walk to the ring set the tone and says everything you need to know about the madman he’s about to go up against.”
For a couple of years, the New Japan Pro Wrestling weekly series on AXS TV was hosted by current SmackDown Live announcer Mauro Ranallo and former UFC Heavyweight Champion Josh Barnett. Recently, it was announced that WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross would be replacing Ross as the broadcast journalist.
With American exposure through both AXS TV and New Japan World, NJPW has continued to grow in popularity in the United States. Moreover, since NJPW has developed a working relationship with ROH, many names from NJPW have competed in an ROH ring, including both KUSHIDA and Takahashi. In fact, Tomohiro Ishii even had a reign as ROH World Television Champion in 2016.
ROH is not the only promotion that has been scouting NJPW over the past couple of years. Before his WWE debut at the 2016 Royal Rumble and subsequent WWE Championship, AJ Styles was the leader of the Bullet Club before getting axed by Kenny Omega. Before debuting for WWE under the NXT brand, Shinsuke Nakamura was one of the most popular stars in NJPW in the last decade, winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship three times, and the IWGP Intercontinental Championship five times. Current Raw Tag Team Champions Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows also came from NJPW, as they were members of the Bullet Club stable.
With the depletion of NXT, as well as the advent of the Cruiserweight division in the summer of 2016, there is a much higher chance that pro wrestling fans will see more names from NJPW. Specifically, competitors such as KUSHIDA and Takahashi would seemingly be high on the scouting radar.
[Featured Image By New Japan Pro Wrestling/Facebook]