It’s pretty safe to say that everyone has a dream. Professional wrestlers are in a very unique position where they get to make a living doing what they love. The money is only a small part of why many wrestlers do what they do. For the most part, they do it for the love of the game. One event that truly sums this up is New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom. It is the show where the top stars of the international wrestling scene shine the brightest. New Japan Pro Wrestling has been putting on an annual show at the Tokyo Dome since 1989, but has only been producing it under the Wrestle Kingdom banner since 2006. It is then followed by New Year’s Dash the next night at Korakuen Hall.
Year after year on January 4, thousands of fans from throughout Japan and around the world have made their way to the historic Tokyo Dome to watch NJPW’s finest compete for some of the industry’s most prestigious titles. Wrestle Kingdom has always had a very special significance for them as well the wrestlers on the card. Much like WWE’s Wrestlemania, stepping out in front of that 40,000+ crowd in the Tokyo Dome is considered by many wrestlers to be a dream come true. From Tanahashi vs Nakamura to Okada vs Omega, some of New Japan’s most iconic rivalries have had their biggest moments take place at Wrestle Kingdom. Wrestling historian, Chris Charlton’s book Eggshells is a great source of information on this.
It’s the biggest crowd NJPW talent will be in front of all year. Just being on the card for Wrestle Kingdom is a huge honor for them, but the ultimate goal is to be in the main event. This is normally where the winner of that year’s G1 CLIMAX challenges for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Since the establishment of a dual champion at Wrestle Kingdom 14, the G1 winner now challenges for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship as well.
The road to the Tokyo Dome essentially begins with the end of the G1 CLIMAX tournament. It’s one of, if not the wrestling world’s most prestigious tournament: a twenty man round game of survival where the ultimate prize is a spot in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom. The rest of the calendar year after the end of G1 season is all setting up the card for Wrestle Kingdom. To be in the Tokyo Dome main event is the biggest opportunity a New Japan wrestler will have to cement their legacy and take that next step in their career. To win in that main event is definitely a crowning moment.
Heading into Wrestle Kingdom, these performers put so much time and energy into preparing for the event – from training for their matches, to putting together special entrances, and having special ring gear made. Each year the excitement surrounding Wrestle Kingdom rises to a fever pitch as January 4 draws near. This event is a major part of why the Tokyo Dome has always been so important to the Japanese wrestling culture and its history.
Passion and fighting spirit are at the very core of the Japanese wrestling culture. That passion is never more present than at Wrestle Kingdom. Having been expanded to two nights, this event gives even more of NJPW’s best an opportunity to write that next chapter in the story of their careers. As each of them waits at the go position to make their entrance, a million emotions will be running through them. They will then step through that curtain, walk down that entrance ramp, and step into that ring to show the wrestling world what dreams are made of.