Written by Eli Conroy-de Voss.
It’s been a very merry Christmas and wrestling Santa has certainly kept himself busy. It’s been an enormous week in Japan, with big matches being held, new champions being crowned and important announcements being made. It seems last week was the calm before the storm, because Christmas has certainly given the gifts this time around.
New Japan Pro Wrestling:
The biggest news coming out of New Japan this week, and quite possibly all of Japan, is that NJPW suddenly finds itself with a new President. In a shocking turn of events, former President Takami Ohbari and Representative Director Michiaki Nishizawa have elected to step down from their positions and in their place the company has appointed Hiroshi Tanahashi to their roles. Tanahashi almost needs no introduction. He’s been with NJPW for over 24 years now and in that time has become one of the most iconic and beloved figures in puroresu history. It feels very fitting to see him at the company’s helm, but what makes this story more interesting is that Tanahashi is still an active wrestler and doesn’t seem to want to change that. He’s set to disclose greater details of the situation with the crowd at Wrestle Kingdom early next year, the same night he’s scheduled for a TV title match with Zack Sabre Jr. What this means for the company moving forward is still to be seen, but it’s been a hot point of discussion among fans since it was announced. This buzz has only been furthered by the announcement that Katsuyori Shibata will be leaving NJPW, having just signed a full time contract with AEW. Shibata has been working for the company on ROH TV frequently for almost a year now and has now amicably severed ties with Bee Japan to pursue ventures in America full time. It is very exciting to think that in 2023, each member of the legendary New Three Musketeers are signed to the three biggest companies in the world.
Pro Wrestling NOAH:
And on the notion of New Japan, The House of Torture vs NOAH feud continues to intensify. After the scheduled tag bout set for NOAH’s New Year show was suddenly turned into a twelve man tag, New Japan have announced that Kaito Kiyomiya will be returning to the company for Wrestle Kingdom, teaming with Shota Umino to take on EVIL and Ren Narita. Umino has even gone so far as to say that after the beating his team gives House of Torture on January 2nd, there won’t be anyone left to fight, so why not just make it a one on one bout between him and Kiyomiya. One can only dream.
All Japan Pro Wrestling:
The “special assassin” All Japan President, Takanori Fukuda, promised has been revealed. In a very bizarre turn of events, NXT’s Charlie Dempsey will be making his debut for the company on December 31st. He’ll be teaming with Yuma Anzai to take on Tatsumi Fujinami and his son Leona. After that, Dempsey will face either Kento Miyahara or Katsuhiko Nakajima for the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship on January 3rd. Next week is looking to be very busy.
Dragon Gate Pro Wrestling:
Dragon Gate’s Final Gate show was rather eventful this year, seeing three titles change hands. The first of which were the Open the Triangle Gate titles, which YAMATO, Dragon Kid and Punch Tominaga dropped to Z-Brats’ KAI, ISHIN and Yoshiki Kato. Immediately afterwards, NOAH’s Kaito Kiyomiya and Alejandro succeeded in winning the Open the Twin Gate titles by defeating Gold Class in the semi-main event. Their first defence will seemingly come at The Gate of Bayside on January 27 against Jacky “Funky” Kamei and Jason Lee. In the main event, Luis Mante defeated Open the Dream Gate Champion, Madoka Kikuta, and former tag partner, Shun Skywalker, to win the big gold title. Mante is the third foreigner in the belt’s history and the first Mexican to ever hold it. Hopefully his reign is a successful one.
The finals of the D-Oh Grand Prix have been decided. Tetsuya Endo has emerged victorious from the A Block after securing a win over Kazusada Higuchi and Yukio Naya has burned his way through the B Block again, having already made the finals last year but this time looking to win. That match will go down on January 3rd, with the winner receiving a shot at Yuki Ueno’s KO-D Openweight Championship. Also, in a bit of odd news, MAO will be making a defence of his DDT Universal title when he returns to America, facing Nate Webb for Atticus Cogar’s Circle6 promotion.
Ganbare Pro Wrestling:
The KO-D Tag Team Championships were successfully defended in Ganbare Pro Wrestling as well. Romance Dawn defeated former Champions, Keisuke Ishii and Shigehiro Irie, in the opening match of the show. In the main event, current Spirit of Ganbare Tag Team Champion, Shuichiro Katsumura, defeated Isami Kodaka to win the Spirit of Ganbare World Openweight title. He is the first man in company history to hold both simultaneously, but whether he can hold onto them is still to be seen. Immediately after the match, Ken Ohka positioned himself as the number one contender for both titles. He made a challenge for the Openweight belt on January 4 and a challenge for the tag titles on January 6, his partner of choice being DDT’s HARASHIMA. Only time will tell if Katsumura can make it out of January as double champion.
Big Japan Pro Wrestling:
BJW has a few big days ahead of them. Their final show of the year on the 30th sees Madman Pondo challenge for Yuki Ishikawa’s Deathmatch Championship while Astronauts defend their tag titles against tournament winners, Masashi Takeda and Takumi Tsukamoto. Kaji Tomato will also be defending his Jr Heavyweight Championship against Ender Kara. It’s looking like a big show to go out on. Then on the 2nd, Leyton Buzzard finally gets his shot at Yuya Aoki’s Strong World Heavyweight Championship, aiming to become the first foreigner in the title’s lineage. And finally, the company has announced they will be making their first foray into the Taiwanese market, co-promoting a show with local independent companies, Puzzle and New Taiwan Pro Wrestling on the 24th of March.
Pro Wrestling FREEDOMS:
It seems Santa got my letters, because we have a new King of FREEDOM World Champion. On Christmas Day, in the main event of Bloody X’Mas, Masashi Takeda defeated Toru Sugiura to start his third reign as KFC Champion. In a post-fight interview, Takeda commented on the fact that last time he won that belt, he was a double champion, but that this time felt different. In January of 2022, Takeda’s wife tragically passed away, leaving him to raise their daughter on his own as a single parent. Takeda said that once the match was over, when he stared up at the ceiling, he thought he saw her smiling down from heaven. He ended the interview saying that he’s committed his life to deathmatch, that he refuses to die, and that more than anything he just wants to go home and show his belt to his daughter. God bless Masashi Takeda.
Over in SEAdLINNNG, Sareee has made her first successful defence of the Beyond the Sea Singles Championship at the company’s final show of the year. She defeated Ayame Sasamura in the main event to secure her title. Earlier on in the show, Las Fresa de Egoistas got new members. Maya Yukihi and Nagisa Nozaki both allied themselves with VENY, Makoto and Mima Shimoda, strengthening the group to five members. Speaking of VENY, Pro Wrestling WAVE saw two new Champions this week. Honoka and Kizuna Tanaka won the WAVE Tag Team Championships off of SAKI and Risa Sera, while Yuki Miyazaki defeated VENY to become the new Regina di WAVE Champion. AJPW’s women’s division/promotion, Evolution, has also picked up a new member. Her name is Soi, and she will debut on the 28th of January against Istuki Aoki. On February 23, Yuna Manase will also make here return for Ganbare Pro’s “Ganbare Joshi” show. Lots of things happening in the world of women’s wrestling.
World Wonder Ring Stardom:
And finally, on the notion of Joshi, Stardom’s final event of the year, Dream Queendom, has just concluded, and with it we see two new champions. AphroditE retained the Goddess titles against Oedo Tai and Giulia held onto the NJPW STRONG Women’s title by defeating Megan Bayne. It is also worth noting, that Syuri will be the next challenger for Mayu Iwatani’s IWGP Women’s Championship and will likely face her at the company’s Toky Dome City Hall show on January 4. As for the big developments, Saori Anou has defeated MIRAI to become the new Wonder of Stardom Champion and in the main event, Maika finally won the World of Stardom title. She beat 5 Star GP winner, Suzu Suzuki for the vacant belt and now looks to embark on her first reign as Champion. Looking forward to seeing what both of these new champions have to offer in the new year.