Wrestle Kingdom Rewind: Golden Anniversary 【WK17】

50th Anniversary year begins at Wrestle Kingdom 17

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Watch Wrestle Kingdom 17 live in English January 4 on NJPW World!

2021 saw the world still labour under the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but as the calendar turned to 2022, there were signs that a corner was turning. As NJPW turned that corner into its 50th Anniversary celebrations, the party would begin with one more two night Wrestle Kingdom, and in contrast to the prior year’s truncated card and roster, a full card brought 19 matches across two nights to the Tokyo Dome, including the first appearance from STARDOM on the main card of a Wrestle kingdom, a prelude to this year’s IWGP Women’s Championship match between KAIRI and Tam Nakano.

The headline story over the two nights though would center around the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. Months after emerging from January 5 with both IWGP heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships, Kota Ibushi would make good on his proclamation, unifying both titles into the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. Yet the new title would have a rocky road to prominence. 

Ibushi would fall on his first defence of the new belt to New Japan Cup winner Will Ospreay, the Commonwealth Kingpin completing a stunning ascent to the pinnacle of professional wresting. Yet he would launch himself into a demanding schedule, including a brutal war with Shingo Takagi that year at Dontaku, a match that resulted in a litany of injuries for the champion. NJPW would strip Ospreay of the title as he recovered, leaving Takagi to defeat Kazuchika Okada and lift the vacated gold- only for Ospreay to show up in the US with his own version of the gold. As Ospreay refused to recognise Shingo as the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, the decision was made for two main events to settle it all; Takagi defending his official title against G1 Climax 31 winner Kazuchika Okada on January 4, and the winner meeting Will Ospreay on January 5.

Though Shingo badly wanted revenge on Ospreay for his Dontaku defeat, and to establish himself as the undisputed IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, it would be Kazuchika Okada on top on January 4. A war inside the ring and out, Takagi and Okada battled for 35 minutes and 44 seconds. Shingo would get every bit the Rainmaker that had, through nagging injury and his own battle with COVID, been arguably not at the 100% Okada would say he was at. Ultimately, Shingo would experience the Rainmaker for the very first time, and with it, experience defeat, handing over the IWGP World Heavyweight gold he’d held since June en route to MVP status that year. 

Post match, Okada would officially lay to rest the fourth generation IWGP Heavyweight Championship belt that he’d used to represent his G1 win, and refocus the attention of the wrestling world on the new IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. Okada’s work with that title was only just beginning. Having lost to Okada one year prior, Will Ospreay would be waiting to seek revenge for Wrestle Kingdom 15, and to take the title he felt was truly his. 

Ospreay pulled out all the stops to take down his white whale in Kazuchika Okada, a heart stopping dive from the lighting rig just one of the high impact moments in a 30 minute plus highlight reel. Ospreay seemed to have Okada’s fate sealed, powering out of the Rainmaker, and picking off his dropkick out of midair with a sit out powerbomb. It was a perfect game from the challenger, but perfect wasn’t enough to defeat the new champion, and Okada would be victorious, setting the standard for NJPW’s half century celebrations. 

Watch Wrestle Kingdom 16 night 1 here!

Watch  Wrestle Kingdom 16 night 2 here!