Kenny Omega challenges ‘replacement’ Will Ospreay at Wrestle Kingdom 17

Kenny says he wasn’t interested at first but wants to do it for the fans and the good of pro wrestling.

Kenny Omega just made his AEW return at Full Gear on Saturday night, but he made it clear Sunday morning that he already has his mind set on a return to Japan as well.

In a video posted by New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s official Twitter account after it played during the company’s Historic X-Over event with Stardom, Omega announced a challenge for Will Ospreay and the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 17.

Omega suggested that once AEW was created, NJPW felt the need to replace him with Ospreay.

“And how did that turn out, hm?” Omega said. “The crowds have gotten smaller. We can’t hear them cheering.”

He went on to call Omega and United Empire “second rate Kenny Omega knockoffs,” and that while he initially wasn’t interested, he felt the need to accept the invitation from NJPW for the fans and the good of pro wrestling.

You can watch his entire announcement below.

Omega and Ospreay have gone back and forth quite a bit over social media this year, and did face off in the ring once when Ospreay and Aussie Open lost to Omega and the Young Bucks on the Aug. 31 episode of AEW Dynamite. They’ve tangled a fair number of times as part of tag team matches during Omega’s time in the Bullet Club in NJPW too, particularly between fall 2016 and the end of 2018.

But perhaps surprisingly (and because Ospreay was a junior heavyweight at the time), they never had a singles match in NJPW. Their lone solo meeting came in PWG in December 2015, when Omega pinned Ospreay.

Ospreay is now no stranger to AEW audiences, having appeared on TV multiple times around Forbidden Door this summer, where he successfully defended his IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship against Orange Cassidy. He kept his title at Historic X-Over with a victory over Shota Umino.

AEW boss Tony Khan was asked during the press conference after Full Gear Saturday night whether the company would send talent to Wrestle Kingdom. He replied that his discussions with NJPW had been productive, but noted that the event was the same day as AEW’s debut in Seattle, so most of his big stars would be needed there.

Omega’s challenge shows that he really meant “most” and not “all.” Wrestle Kingdom 17 will take place in its annual home, the Tokyo Dome, on Jan. 4, 2023.

Katsuyori Shibata found Orange Cassidy match ‘frustrating’ but wants to wrestle again

Shibata also said he’s already working on his next match.

Fans and journalists have a tendency to throw around the word “miracle” too loosely when it comes to seeing athletes return to their respective sports after serious injuries, but it’s hard to not apply that to Katsuyori Shibata on AEW Rampage last week, taking on Orange Cassidy. Five years removed from suffering a severe, life-threatening brain injury, seeing Shibata on U.S. television in a high profile match falls into the category of things few would ever have expected to see.

Though Shibata took the loss, as expected, it was a fun match that balanced his trademark, no nonsense style with Cassidy’s unique blend of athleticism and comedy to good effect. So you’d think that Shibata would be overjoyed with his performance, but it appears he remains a tough critic of his own work even though he’s fortunate to be back in the ring at all.

Shibata told Tokyo Sports he found the experience “frustrating” but did add that he “felt alive” (h/t to Fightful for the transcription).

“It’s frustrating, really,” Shibata said. “The result is the same, and I have a lot of things to reflect on in terms of my moves. I felt that I was back on the battlefield, and that the ring is special. Sometimes things go well, and sometimes things don’t go well.

“I really felt alive. I’ve been looking for a chance for a long time. I thought that if I waited in Japan, I would never get a chance. I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity I have now. I wanted to give it my all. I went there without hesitation.”

The 42-year-old Shibata has been heading up NJPW’s LA Dojo for several years. He has wrestled just twice in Japan since his return from injury, battling to a draw with Zack Sabre Jr. last year under UWF, shoot-style rules, then earning a victory over Ren Narita at Wrestle Kingdom earlier this year.

But it sounds like he hasn’t closed the door on more in-ring appearances, whether they come in the U.S. or Japan.

“I think I will fight in the near future,” Shibata said. “I’ve already started working on it.”

Fred Rosser on being NJPW Strong Openweight Champion: ‘In any industry, everyone remembers their first’

NJPW Strong Openweight Champion Fred Rosser spoke to Under the Ring about his first singles title and bringing the NJPW style to the U.S.

When he was Darren Young in his WWE days, Fred Rosser knew what it was like to win championship gold. But being the current Strong Openweight Champion while working for New Japan Pro-Wrestling can’t help but be a little different and more special.

MrNoDaysOff signed with NJPW in June 2021, and while he’s yet to actually wrestle in Japan (more on that in a bit), Rosser has become a key component of the company’s efforts in the U.S. through NJPW Strong. Earlier this year, he defeated Tom Lawlor to claim his first singles title, which he’s managed to defend three times since.

As Rosser told host Phil Strum on this week’s episode of Under the Ring: Pro Wrestling Conversations, ahead of NJPW’s shows in New York City this week, the experience he’s had as champion has been the best of his wrestling career.

“I think in any industry, everyone remembers their first,” Rosser said. “This to me is like winning an Emmy or a Grammy. It’s my first, and New Japan Strong has been my home. I’ve been the heart and soul of New Japan Strong.

“They’ve given me an opportunity, being an African-American, gay man. They put me on the marquee before WWE, and I’m very grateful. … I’m more me when I’m in a New Japan Strong ring.”

Listen to the entire interview with Rosser above, as he touches on topics including:

  • What it’s like helping expand the NJPW style to a U.S. audience
  • His surprising background in musical theater
  • Why Bob Backlund is still on his bucket list of dream matches even in his mid-70s
  • Which top AEW star he’d love to share a ring with soon
  • How he hopes it’s just a matter of time before he wrestles in Japan

Under the Ring drops new episodes on audio each Monday and on YouTube each Wednesday, featuring a different intriguing from the pro wrestling industry each time out in a straightforward conversation with experienced wrestling journalist Phil Strum. Recent guests have included indie veteran Brian Anthony, NWA wrestler Hale Collins and WWE star Raquel Rodriguez.

To make sure you don’t miss an episode, subscribe to Under the Ring on Apple Podcasts or your podcast provider of choice, or check out the Under the Ring YouTube channel to see all of the interviews in video form.

It appears Karl Anderson may still defend his NEVER Openweight Championship after all

Even Karl Anderson probably can’t be in Saudi Arabia and Japan on the same day, but it might be all good anyway.

Karl Anderson has made his way back to WWE alongside partner Luke Gallows, but he still holds a NJPW singles title. Normally, that would be the end of his reign; Gallows would drop the championship and that would be that. But as often heard in very different contexts, these are unprecedented times, and it appears Anderson may still defend his NEVER Openweight Championship after all.

While it was reported that Anderson would be allowed to fulfill some remaining NJPW commitments even after signing with WWE, that plan got called into question once Anderson and Gallows were announced for Crown Jewel in a six-man tag with AJ Styles against The Judgment Day. That event is set for Saudi Arabia on Nov. 5, the same day Anderson was supposed to have a title defense against Hikuleo.

NJPW has that match still listed on its site for Battle Autumn ’22 in Osaka, and then put out a statement suggesting that Anderson would have to vacate his championship if he’s in Saudi Arabia and not Japan on that day. But Hikuleo took to Twitter to suggest he’s fine with waiting for his title shot.

And Anderson replied saying he has no intention of dropping the belt.

So what gives here? Fightful Select reports that things are all good between NJPW and WWE, and while it doesn’t know about the specifics around the NEVER Openweight Championship, “there still are and always have been active plans for Karl Anderson to compete in NJPW.”

“Beyond that, we’re told that New Japan has been aware that Anderson and Gallows were heading to WWE as far back as August, and that’s when the deal was hammered out,” the outlet added.

That suggests that this being pro wrestling and all, this could all be — you guessed it — an angle to stir up some extra interest in Anderson’s remaining NJPW appearances. We’ll have to see where this all goes next, but while this isn’t exactly a Forbidden Door-style situation, even this level of cooperation between NJPW and WWE is something no one would have expected just a few short months ago.

Jay White talks Forbidden Door press conference, where he complained about not having a holder for his title belt

If you don’t have Jay White’s title displayed properly, he’s not going to let it go.

Before AEW had that press conference after All Out, there was a contentious moment or two during the media scrum after Forbidden Door. It’s just that instead of CM Punk going off on his co-workers, the drama in Chicago was part of the show, with Jay White complaining loudly and often to Tony Khan about how there was no holder to display his IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, then berating the poor member of the AEW PR team who set one up, only to have White’s belt slip off and clatter loudly as it fell.

Even knowing that White carries his persona into situations like that, it was a little unsettling to see in person. But as White explained to NBC Sports Boston, it’s pretty common in his NJPW work and shows the freedom that company (and AEW, as evidenced by the Punk drama) gives performers compared to what U.S. wrestling fans may be accustomed to seeing (h/t to Fightful for the transcription).

“Some of it is by design and a lot of it is maybe without me realizing it,” White said. “For example, after Forbidden Door, we had the post-show press conference and for some reason, people were taken aback by how I was, or surprised, where if you had seen a second of me talking after matches, you would know what to expect.

“It’s different to a lot of people, especially over in the states, that are maybe used to the wrestling they see on TV, which can be a lot more performed where this platform that I have through New Japan, I have a bit more freedom with stuff to say and do whatever I want. People can buy into that and enjoy it a bit more.”

Always an outstanding in-ring performer, White has taken things to the next level in terms of his awareness of how to connect with audiences in all situations. That includes on social media, and, yes, press conferences.

With that in mind, if AEW ever invites the Catalyst back for another big event, it might want to make sure everything is set up perfectly for him after the show. It won’t eliminate the chances of a public tongue-lashing, but it should at least reduce them a bit.

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Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson could still appear at Wrestle Kingdom despite signing with WWE

The Machine Gun could still defend his NJPW title even after signing with WWE.

AEW is known for working closely with NJPW (hence, Forbidden Door this summer). WWE? Not as much. But that might be changing ever so slightly, as two recent WWE returnees may not be completely finished working for Japan’s top promotion.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson appeared on a WWE program for the first time in more than two years on the most recent episode of Raw, backing AJ Styles in his ongoing battle against The Judgment Day. The duo had most recently worked in Impact Wrestling, along with making some appearances in NJPW.

The Good Brothers are finished with Impact but might not be with NJPW. According to Fightful Select, Gallows and Anderson “were only under a verbal commitment in Japan, and those duties are being allowed to be fulfilled.”

It was confirmed to us that New Japan Pro Wrestling were very aware that Gallows and Anderson were headed to WWE, and future NJPW dates are still happening. We’ve even heard from one side that there are hopes that the January 4 Tokyo Dome show is still on the table, but a lot can happen between now and then.

There’s some extra significance to Anderson, especially, being able to continue to appear in NJPW, because he’s the current NEVER Openweight Champion. He could simply be stripped of the title as happens fairly often in pro wrestling, but considering he’s defended it only once since defeating Tama Tonga to win it in June, that wouldn’t be all that satisfying.

Wrestle Kingdom is NJOW’s biggest show of the year, one where the expectation is that almost every championship is defended. It would be very intriguing if a wrestler under contract to WWE would appear on that card, perhaps even paving the way ever so slightly for a Forbidden Door-type show between the two companies somewhere down the road. On top of that, there’s already an expectation that some AEW wrestlers may end up on the card, so there could be history in the making if AEW, NJPW and WWE wrestlers are all on one show together.

We should find out soon enough what the deal is with Anderson (and Gallows), as the first few matches for Wrestle Kingdom 17 have already been announced ahead of its Jan. 4, 2023 date at the Tokyo Dome.

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Two title matches confirmed for Wrestle Kingdom 17

Participants from the first two of many title matches for Wrestle Kingdom 17 had their say.

With Wrestle Kingdom 17 once again looming as the biggest show of the NJPW calendar year on Jan. 4, there are guaranteed to be a number of title matches. Thanks to a press conference held late Monday night, U.S. time, we officially know what two of them will be.

In what figures to be the show’s main event, IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Jay White will defend his title against Kazuchika Okada. It will be the latest in an interesting series of singles matches between the two that has seen White take four victories in five meetings, even when Okada was the unquestioned top star in the promotion.

They’ve met twice before for the world championship, with Okada beating White at ROH/NJPW G1 SuperCard in 2019 and White returning the favor at NJPW Dominion 6.12 In Osaka-Jo Hall earlier this year. White then successfully held off Okada, Adam Cole and Hangman Adam Page in a four-way match to retain the title at Forbidden Door, the crossover event with AEW in Chicago.

Okada secured his spot for Wrestle Kingdom in August, pinning Will Ospreay in the G1 Climax final. Yet he didn’t know who he’d face until this week, when White turned back Tama Tonga in an IWGP World Heavyweight Championship match. At the press conference, White seemed annoyed that Okada didn’t have the same stakes in his match with JONAH.

“I’m still confused as to why his match against the monster JONAH, why that wasn’t for the right to challenge me at Wrestle Kingdom,” White said. “It doesn’t make sense to me, but then I’m not surprised, or shocked because of course this man is going to get that treatment.”

The other Wrestle Kingdom 17 match made official was a four-way bout for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship that will see champion Taiji Ishimori try to retain against Hiromu Takahashi, El Desperado and Master Wato.

The junior heavyweights’ portion of the press conference was a bit wilder, with Hiromu passing out a flier he made for a proposed “Miyakojima tour” for the four combatants, as well as confusion over the actual rules of the four-way.

“When we’ve done tag team three ways and four ways there’s always been tags and two guys in,” El Desperado said.

“This is singles, so it’s got nothing to do with it,” Hiromu replied. “Five years ago when I had a four-way, everyone was all over the place.”

They also bickered a bit over a Nov. 5 show in Osaka where the four of them will be in a tag team match with the sides decided by random draw. No one seemed eager to tag up with anyone else, and Wato ended up posing for photos intended for the whole group by himself.

Wrestle Kingdom 17 is set for the Tokyo Dome on Jan. 4, returning to a single-night event for the first time since 2019. Other matches already expected to be confirmed will be the final bout in a tournament to determine the inaugural NJPW World Television Championship, as well as an IWGP Women’s Championship match after that title is first awarded at the Historic X-Over show on Nov. 20.

Roman Reigns, Kazuchika Okada, CM Punk top 2022 PWI 500

According to the latest PWI 500, Roman Reigns is the top star in all of pro wrestling, not just WWE.

It’s time to acknowledge Roman Reigns as the best pro wrestler on the planet.

For the second time, Reigns was selected No. 1 in Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s PWI 500, its rankings of the top male pro wrestlers in the world. The list, which has been published annually since 1991, also gave Reigns the top spot in 2016.

Joining Reigns in the top three are Kazuchika Okada of NJPW and currently suspended AEW star CM Punk. Both are former number ones in their own right; Okada in 2017, Punk in 2012.

AEW and WWE each placed another wrestler in the top five, with Hangman Adam Page appearing at No. 4, followed by Bobby Lashley. It’s a career-best rank for Page, whose previous high was No. 33 two years ago, while Lashley slips just a few spots from No. 3 in 2021.

The top 10 for 2022 also includes AAA luchador El Hijo del Vikingo at No. 8, and former ROH World Champion Jonathan Gresham at No. 10. After Okada, the next highest ranking NJPW wrestler is Shingo Takagi at No. 11.

Perhaps the most bittersweet entry among this year’s top wrestlers is No. 9-ranked Big E. While it’s his first appearance in the top 10 after moving up four places since 2021, Big E is currently out of action following a broken neck sustained in March, and he told TMZ over the summer that he’s unsure if he will ever be able to wrestle again.

Other notable entries within the PWI 500 top 30:

  • Jox Moxley slips just a bit from No. 6 in 2021 to No. 12.
  • At No. 13, Matt Cardona is the top-ranked indie performer.
  • Josh Alexander‘s No. 14 ranking makes him the top Impact Wrestling star for 2022.
  • Last year’s No. 1, Kenny Omega, finds himself at No. 19 this year, in large part due to time he missed due to injury.
  • Current IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Jay White of NJPW is sure to use his No. 23 ranking as even more of a chip on his shoulder.

The December issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated containing the entire PWI 500 is available now digitally, and will go on sale in print form soon.

NJPW returning to NYC in October for Rumble on 44th Street

Rumble on 44th Street will be the first NJPW card in New York City since G1 Supercard with ROH in 2019.

One of the things New Japan Pro-Wrestling fans have come to expect from the night of the G1 Climax final is announcements about upcoming shows. Along with the news that the next Wrestle Kingdom is returning to one night, there was a reveal during the break in the G1 Climax 32 final that U.S. fans, and specifically those in the northeast, should find very interesting.

NJPW announced on Thursday that it is returning to New York City for an event called Rumble on 44th Street on Friday, Oct. 28. The show will be held at the Palladium Times Square (formerly the PlayStation Theater), and will mark the company’s first card in NYC since 2019.

Also of note is that Stardom, NJPW’s sister promotion that features women’s wrestling, will be part of the show. That’s a fairly rare occurrence for big NJPW events, though having their talent involved automatically makes the event more in line with U.S. fan expectations of men’s and women’s wrestling on the same cards.

It’s also fair to speculate about whether stars from U.S. promotions, specifically AEW, might be integrated into the event. The last time NJPW was in New York was for G1 Supercard in April 2019, which was a supershow done in conjunction with Ring of Honor (now owned by AEW). In addition, recent reports hint at AEW talent being part of Wrestle Kingdom 17 next January, so it would only make sense for the two companies to work together in some fashion in October as well.

Rumble on 44th Street will be offered on pay-per-view through NJPW World. Tickets go on sale Thursday, Aug. 25 via Ticketmaster, and start at $39.50. Interested parties can sign up to be part of a special presale on Monday, Aug. 25 by registering for email updates here.

G1 Climax Final results: Okada, Ospreay battle for glory

Get G1 Climax Final results as the winner of the G1 Climax 32 tournament is crowned in a battle between Kazuchika Okada and Will Ospreay.

Will it be a repeat or the crowning of the Billy GOAT?

That’s the big question that will be answered at the Nippon Budokan as G1 Climax 32 comes to a close. On the 20th night of the tournament, just one singles match remains — indeed, it’s literally the only one-on-one match on the card for Aug. 18.

Kazuchika Okada is trying to make history, not only joining only a handful of other NJPW stars who have won the G1 Climax back to back, but trying to win his fourth title overall. That would be a tremendous achievement even in a career already full of them.

Will Ospreay, on the other hand, is trying for his first tournament win, but he’s just as hungry for it. The Commonwealth Kingpin cut a passionate promo at the end of Night 19, claiming to be the best wrestler in the world. The underlying message, however, is that he’d need to finish the job to fully prove it.

If momentum means anything, then Ospreay arguably has it, considering his amazing match with Tetsuya Naito in the semifinal. But Okada is certainly battle tested as well, making it out of an A Block full of oversized opponents.

With seven tag team matches of various sizes that may help set the stage for some NJPW storylines headed into the fall, the rest of the card shouldn’t be slept on either. If you can’t watch the G1 Climax Final live, bookmark this page and check back, as we’ll be updating it with the latest results right as they happen in Tokyo.