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Cafe Puro (12/7/15): What is Wrestle Kingdom?

Welcome to this week's installment of Cafe Puro! 

And today's installment, as well as succeeding installments for the rest of the month, will be dedicated to New Japan Pro Wrestling's biggest event of the year (and the second biggest wrestling event in the world), Wrestle Kingdom, as it reaches its 25th year.

It is no secret that NJPW is already gaining a tremendous worldwide audience in recent years. While there are hardcore fans of the product for a very long time now, there are also many newer fans who were captivated by the best and the brightest in today's wrestling scene, supporting the likes of Hiroshi Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, and Kazuchika Okada.

Today will be focused on what the event is about, its history, significance, and why it became the spectacle that it is today, celebrated on a yearly basis at the historic Tokyo Dome. So, without any further delay...

What is Wrestle Kingdom?

Wrestle Kingdom is the biggest wrestling event in all of Japan and hosted by New Japan Pro Wrestling, taking place every 4th of January. It is a true wrestling spectacle that features the flash and excitement of WrestleMania, while putting the focus on fantastic in-ring action that Japanese puroresu is known for.

Simply put, it's extravagance meets hard hitting action and intense drama, the pinnacle of puroresu.

How did it all begin?

It all started as a blessing in disguise, actually. When NJPW was no longer able to do business with the WWF (now WWE) back in the '80s, they were able to forge a partnership with its American counterpart, World Championship Wrestling. For all intents and purposes, they were able to do great business together, exchanging talent between the two companies when necessary.

And it was during this period that NJPW and WCW came up with a huge show at the Tokyo Dome featuring the best that the two companies had to offer. Dubbed locally as Super Warriors in Tokyo Dome and also shown in the United States as a "WCW/NJPW Supercard," the first card of its kind featured big time dream matches, including Sting and The Great Muta facing the Steiner Brothers in a special tag match, the debut of Jushin "Thunder" Liger, Lex Luger defending the WCW championship against the legendary Masahiro Chono, and Riki Choshu (the father of the Sasori-gatame, aka the Sharpshooter and the Scorpion Death Lock) defeating future WWE Hall of Famer, Tatsumi Fujinami for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and the Greatest 18 Championship (fka the WWF World Martial Arts Heavyweight Championship) in a unification bout.

With a draw of 50,000 people for the first event, and around 63,500 in the following year (as Fantastic Story in Tokyo Dome), it was then decided that January 4 would be the definitive date of NJPW's biggest show of the year, no matter what day it may fall on.

What makes this event so special?

Again, this is NJPW's granddaddy of 'em all (simply put), ergo, this is the event where historic five-star bouts happen, current stories end, and new stories begin. So if you are into top-notch wrestling matches and the fighting spirit of competition, this is where you do.

And to give you an idea of how big an event this is, companies all over the world have made their presence felt in this event since its inception. These companies include WCW, CMLL, ZERO-1, AJPW, NOAH, UWFi, TNA (when it was able to sustain itself), BJW, ROH, and DDT. As a matter of fact, it was NJPW's rivalry with the shoot-based UWFi that inspired a businessman by the name of Eric Bischoff to come up with an industry changing angle that would redefine the business, namely the nWo.

The biggest names in the industry have also graced the Tokyo Dome show over the years, an elite group of people that includes Hulk Hogan, Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle, Mitsuharu Misawa, Sting, Lex Luger, Genichiro Tenryu, the Dudley Boyz (fka Team 3D), Chris Jericho (as Super Liger), Dusty Rhodes, and Vader, among others. 

Not only that, while NJPW's titles are primarily on the line, championships from other companies have also been defended as well, such as the WCW World Heavyweight Championship, TNA Heavyweight Championship, ZERO-1 World Championship, AJPW Triple Crown Championship, and GHC Heavyweight Championship.

Why the change to Wrestle Kingdom?

Over the years, the Tokyo Dome show has had many incarnations. However, in 2007, at the time the company was recovering from the craziness that is "Inoki-ism" (aka the dark period when inexperienced MMA fighters were pushed while pro wrestlers got severely sacrificed to them, almost leading NJPW to the brink of bankruptcy), there was renewed focus to bring the company back up under new management at the time (with Yukes, the developer of various WWE games, purchasing majority ownership of NJPW, years before Bushiroad bought 100% ownership of the promotion).

Thankfully, the recovery period was made easier thanks to the fact that the new blood was here to restore the promotion to its former glory (i.e. Tanahashi, Nakamura). With these elements together, it was only appropriate that the company finally give the January 4 Tokyo Dome Show a permanent identity. Thus, Wrestle Kingdom was born on January 4, 2007, and the rest, as the old saying goes, is history.

On January 4, 2016, Wrestle Kingdom will celebrate its 10th anniversary since the name change, and the 25th anniversary of the Tokyo Dome show in general, so expect NJPW to deliver big time.

How can I watch Wrestle Kingdom?

The best way to watch Wrestle Kingdom while supporting NJPW is by subscribing to NJPW World, the company's equivalent to the WWE Network, for 999 yen a month. This will give you access to all of their big events, historical matches, and special features only available on the service. Plus, 999 yen a month is a pretty good deal, and is like almost paying for two and a half cups of coffee from a cafe.

Next week, we will look at all installments of Wrestle Kingdom since 2007, and how the show has evolved since then. Cannot wait for Wrestle Kingdom? Any favorite matches from the event? Sound off in the comments!

Images from NJPW

Lance Tan Ong has been a banking guy for the past few years but a wrestling guy for most of his life. And after checking out matches of Mitsuharu Misawa and Shinya Hashimoto at an early age, he's also pretty much a puro guy as well. Currently checking out WWE (mostly NXT), NJPW, DDT, and other promotions that catch and demand attention. He currently handles NJPW news and coverage for Smark Henry.

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