While most American fans think the “wrestling year” starts with the Royal Rumble, for fans in Japan and around the world it starts just a few days after the new year. Wrestle Kingdom is New Japan Pro Wrestling’s “Wrestlemania” and the first big wrestling event of the year. NJPW’s annual massive show takes place inside the famed Tokyo Dome. 40,000 fans pack the famed arena for a night of outstanding pro-wrestling. While most of the wrestlers are unfamiliar to the typical US-based fan, there were a few names on the card that WWE fans would recognize.

From guys who have main-evented Wrestlemania to former mid-carders who had to go abroad to get a big shot, here are some of the names from the New Japan Wrestle Kingdom 12 card you may know.

Jushin “Thunder” Liger and Taka Michinoku

both participated in the pre-show “New Japan Rumble.”

Liger and Michinoku are 25+ year veterans who you may know from their time in the cruiserweight divisions of WCW and WWF. Both are considered pioneers of cruiserweight-style wrestling both in American and Japan

Jushin Liger also wrestled against Tyler Breeze a few years ago at an NXT: Takeover show before SummerSlam.

Take Michinoku is a former WWF Light Heavyweight champion and was infamous for his badly-dubbed evil foreigner gimmick.

Trent(?) Baretta, Tanga Loa (aka Comacho) and Zack Sabre Jr

All three participated in the gauntlet for the NEVER 6-man tag team title. Barretta as a member of the CHAOS team won the titles and the gauntlet. 

Sabre Jr had a big-run in 2016’s Cruiserweight Classic. Before his time in WWE Sabre was a big star in Japan for Noah as well as NJPW. In America, he is the current Evolve champion and regularly wrestles for Pro Wrestling Guerilla.

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Barretta was part of an early version of NXT that served as a test-run of the brand as it looks today. He also briefly feuded with Goldust on the final years of the ECW on Syfy show. He never rose much beyond an enhancement talent on Smackdown. Since leaving WWE in 2013 “Trent?” has wrestled for TNA and various other independent promotions here and abroad. In NJPW, Barretta is a former Jr. Heavyweight champion and current 6-man champion.

Tanga Loa was known as Comacho in WWE. Despite being of Tongan descent, Loa teamed with Hunico (no Sin Cara) as a tag-team of Chicano gangsters. After being shipped back to NXT and then being released, Loa moved to TNA and then Japan to team with his brother Tama Tonga. The two are brothers and sons of legendary wrestler and scariest-man-alive Haku.

Cody (Rhodes)

faced off in a losing effort against Cruiserweight Classic participant Kota Ibushi

Cody Rhodes

Cody Rhodes reinvented his career and himself after leaving WWE. Tired of being a bit-character, Rhodes took his skills and became the hottest free agent in all of wrestling. Early last year Rhodes was wrestling in Japan, TNA, and Ring of Honor simultaneously. Until two weeks ago, Rhodes held the Ring of Honor title. This year he and the Young Bucks are planning a 10,000-seat independent wrestling show.

Davy Boy Smith Jr (aka David Hart Smith) and Lance Archer (aka Vance Archer)

Lost the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Titles to EVIL & Sanada

As his name suggests, Davy Boy Smith Jr is the son of the late Davy Boy Smith aka “The British Bulldog” and the nephew of Bret Hart. While in WWE he wrestled under the name David Hart Smith. With childhood friend Tyson Kidd he held the WWE and World Tag Team titles while a part of the “New Hart Foundation.”

Archer has wrestled for the NWA and TNA. He also had a brief stint in WWF has Vance Archer from 2009-2010. While in TNA he won the NWA Tag titles.

Together they are known as the “Killer Elite Squad” and are members of the “Suzuki-gun” stable led by MMA and wrestling icon Minoru Suzuki.

Chris Jericho

Wrestled Kenny Omega in a No-DQ match for the NJPW US Title

What needs to be said about Jericho? He’s one of the greatest of all time. His long-career and constant re-invention have kept him at the top of the wrestling game for over 20 years. Jericho got his start in Japan and had wanted to return for quite some time. His feud with Omega included several public fights as the two looked to really sell the match.

Did you watch Wrestle Kingdom? Are you a fan of Japanese wrestling? Would you like to see more coverage of Japanese wrestling?Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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