Taking place on January 4th every year (although some years added a second night of action on January 5th), it is considered the biggest night in wrestling for many fans. Some of the best matches of all time have taken place in the Tokyo Dome at Wrestle Kingdom, which you can read by clicking the link below.
The event first took place in 2007, for the first ever edition of Wrestle Kingdom. The show celebrated the 35th anniversary of NJPW and AJPW, which were founded in 1972 after Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba split from the Japanese Wrestling Association. As such, it featured top stars from both companies, leading to a huge cross-promotion main event.
It has been described as “the largest professional wrestling show in the world outside of the United States” and the “Japanese equivalent to the Super Bowl“, which shows just how big Wrestle Kingdom is in the world of professional wrestling (although AEW All In has surely taken the role of the biggest show outside of the US, in wrestling at least).
The main event of the show as Keiji Muto & Masahiro Chono vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima, although the event also featured big stars like Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi on the card. It was the start of an iconic series of events that will hit 18-years in 2024, with Tetsuya Naito vs SANADA battling for the IWGP World Heavyweight Title in the main event.
However, the annual tradition of a big event in the Tokyo Dome on January 4th did not begin in 2007. It goes back to 1992, when NJPW hosted the Super Warriors in Tokyo Dome (known in the US as the
WCW/New Japan Supershow II). This event saw huge crossover matches like Sting & The Great Muta vs The Steiners and Lex Luger vs Masahiro Chono for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship.
They spent 15-years before this Tokyo Dome show would be named Wrestle Kingdom, taking queues from a video game of the same name by the gaming company that bought the company two years prior.
Wrestle Kingdom Was Named After A Video Game
In November 2005, video game company Yukes bought Japanese wrestling promotion New Japan Pro Wrestling. They bought a 51.5% stake in the company, ousting previous boss Antonio Inoki and ousting him from the company he founded in 1972.
The company had a long history with NJPW. Since the 1995 release New Japan Pro Wrestling: Toukon Retsuden, Yukes made games with the New Japan license, including wrestlers like Antonio Inoki, Riki Chosu and The Great Muta in their wrestling games.
In the west, Yukes were more famous for their WWE games. While the Smackdown vs Raw series of games became some of the top-selling games on the PS2 and PS3, they also created games like WrestleMania X8 and WWE Day of Reckoning on the Gamecube.
Just one month after purchasing New Japan Pro Wrestling, Yukes released their latest game featuring the company’s license. This game was Wrestle Kingdom, a wrestling game based upon the same engine used to create Day of Reckoning.
Released in Japan on the XBOX 360 on December 22 2005, it became one of the most popular wrestling games in Japan. Swapping the simulation style from previous games, it featured a more arcade-style of play, and featured one of the best rosters ever seen in a video game. It also had incredible graphics for its day, and is lauded as one of the best wrestling games ever.
Wrestle Kingdom featured wrestlers not just from New Japan Pro Wrestling, but also Pro Wrestling NOAH and All Japan Pro Wrestling. It was a true celebration of wrestling, and clearly inspired the creation of the event with the same name two years later.
In 2007, NJPW renamed their annual Tokyo Dome show on January 4th to Wrestle Kingdom. The show celebrated the 35th anniversary of NJPW and AJPW, which were founded in 1972 after Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba split from the Japanese Wrestling Association. As such, it featured top stars from both companies, leading to a huge cross-promotion main event.
This show came just 5 months before the release of Wrestle Kingdom 2, the long-awaited sequel to the hit game. This game added even more characters to its roster, including younger versions of stars like Antonio Inoki and Koji Muto, as well as legends like Stan Hansen, The Destroyer and Vader (plus freelancers like Tajiri and Hayabusa).
While that was the final game in the series, the Wrestle Kingdom event has continued to the present day. 2024 will hold Wrestle Kingdom 18, which looks to be one of the biggest shows in history with matches like SANADA vs Tetsuya Naito and Bryan Danielson vs Kazuchika Okada main eventing the show.