By: Mark Buckeldee
Welcome to this POST Wrestling report for New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 16 in Tokyo Dome Day one. This is the first New Japan show of 2022, the first of three Wrestle Kingdom branded shows in five days. For the third consecutive year, Wrestle Kingdom is split over multiple days. This was a big event for New Japan as it is a chance to try to win back fans and put their best foot forwards. The attendance was announced as 12,047 fans, about 600 lower than Day one of last year’s Wrestle Kingdom 15.
- New Japan Ranbo – The usual plodding affair with two genuine surprises
- Yoh vs Sho – A good match with too much House of Truth antics and not enough hate
- Rocky Romero, Ryusuke Taguchi & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs El Phantasmo, Taiji Ishimori & KENTA – A basic build up tag match
- BUSHI, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito vs Great O-Khan, Jeff Cobb & Will Ospreay – A basic, uninspiring tag match. An LIJ T-shirt special
- Katsuyori Shibata vs X – Shibata did what he did best: Wrestle a no-nonsense, exciting match – RECOMMENDED
- NEVER Openweight Championship: Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs EVIL – A frustrating, bad match with a ridiculous amount of interference, even by EVIL’s usual standards
- IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Zack Sabre Jr & Taichi (c) vs YOSHI-HASHI & Hirooki Goto – A particularly good, occasionally scrappy tag match – RECOMMENDED
- IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship: El Desperado (c) vs Hiromu Takahashi – A great, bomb-laden sprint – RECOMMENDED
- IWGP World Heavyweight Championship: Shingo Takagi (c) vs Kazuchika Okada – A great New Japan style Tokyo Dome Main event, mixing the best of Okada and Takagi – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
New Japan Ranbo
Like last year’s Ranbo, the last four qualify for a four-way KOPW trophy match on day two. The big surprises were CIMA and Tatsumi Fujinami. CIMA was one of the top stars in Dragon Gate for over a decade before becoming a freelancer. Fujinami was a true New Japan legend, a six-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
Order of entry: Chase Owens, Aaron Henare, Kosei Fujita, Yuto Nakashima, Ryohei Oiwa, Master Wato, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Minoru Suzuki, Satoshi Kojima, Taka Michinoku, CIMA, Tomoaki Honma, DOUKI, Yuji Nagata, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Togi Makabe, Bad Luck Fale, Tatsumi Fujinami, Toru Yano.
Order of elimination: Kosei Fujita (Minoru Suzuki), Yuto Nakashima (Minoru Suzuki), Ryohei Oiwa (Minoru Suzuki), Taka Michinoku (CIMA), Master Wato (CIMA), Hiroyoshi Tenzan (Yoshinobu Kanemaru), Satoshi Kojima (Yuji Nagata), DOUKI (Bad Luck Fale), Yoshinobu Kanemaru (Bad Luck Fale), Tomoaki Honma (Bad Luck Fale), Bad Luck Fale (Togi Makabe), Aaron Henare (Toru Yano), Tatsumi Fujinami (CIMA), Togi Makabe (Chase Owens).
Final Four: Chase Owens, Minoru Suzuki, CIMA, Toru Yano (27:14)
As usual, this was dull and plodding. The surprises felt big, with Fujinami as the nostalgia pop and CIMA as something genuinely unexpected. Aside from the usual tropes of a Japanese battle royal, the big problem with this match was the ending. Having no winner means that the ending is ridiculously flat and unsatisfying, which makes the time invested in watching it feel wasted.
The opening video package hyped-up New Japan’s 50th anniversary and included a video from New Japan founder Antonio Inoki.
Yoh vs Sho
This was a rematch from day one of Wrestle Grand Slam in Met Life Dome. Yoh got this started with a flip dive and he teased hitting the Direct Drive on the entrance ramp, only to get slammed on the ramp. Sho dominated and bullied his former partner, only for Yoh to fight back with a Dragon Screw. Yoh showed his anger with mounted forearms and Bryan Danielson-style face stomps. A German suplex earned Yoh a two count and Sho had to use the referee as a distraction to regain control with a spear.
Sho returned the favor with some (rather timid) Danielson stomps, getting a two count with a cross arm piledriver. Yoh constantly looked for counters, locking in the Stargazer calf slicer only for Dick Togo to distract the referee and let Sho hit a German Suplex. Sho then locked in his Snake Bite submission hold, but Yoh reached the ropes. When Sho tried to hit Yoh with a wrench, Yoh ducked. Sho accidentally hit Togo with the wrench and Yoh pinned Sho with the Five Star Clutch.
Yoh pinned Sho via Five Star Clutch (12:32)
This was a good match but like their previous matches, it lacked the hatred that you should have from this kind of feud. I liked the start and there were great elements like the Stargazer counter and some of Sho’s selling. The problem was the lack of heat and the House of Torture antics. Sho did not look comfortable in this gimmick and his stomps on Yoh were almost comical. The finish made it clear that there was more to come. The potential is there with these two, but this feud feels like the Tetsuya Naito vs Yujiro Takahashi feud: On paper, it should work but it never really clicks.
Rocky Romero, Ryusuke Taguchi & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs El Phantasmo, Taiji Ishimori & KENTA
Romero and Taguchi showed off their teamwork early on before things broke down and Taguchi was isolated by the Bullet Club. Taguchi made the hot tag to Tanahashi, who cleaned house. KENTA tried to steal a win with a roll-up. That caused a ref bump and let KENTA attack with a Kendo stick. Taguchi and Romero hit stereo plancha’s and Tanahashi gave KENTA a taste of his own medicine, which caused the referee to DQ Tanahashi.
KENTA beat Hiroshi Tanahashi via DQ (8:40)
This was a fun but basic build-up tag match. Aside from some fun spots, there was little to this aside from Tanahashi being unafraid to use KENTA’s tactics against him. Not bad but mostly inconsequential, easily skippable.
BUSHI, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito vs Great O-Khan, Jeff Cobb & Will Ospreay
This was designed to build up SANADA vs O-Khan and Naito vs Cobb. I could not get over how it looked like someone had cut off part of Great O-Khan’s question mark with scissors. Ospreay’s Versace bathrobe looked like it was designed to be worn by obnoxious rich YouTubers. I had no clue how to describe Naito’s leather jacket.
The United Empire jumped LIJ, with Cobb overpowering Naito. The Empire isolated Naito before LIJ helped Naito tag out. O-Khan and SANADA tagged in, which led to a teased plancha, lazy covers, and SANADA’s convoluted dropkick. Everyone got involved and we had a parade of moves (TM Ian Hamilton) as the finish came down to BUSHI vs Ospreay. After a nice-looking elevated powerbomb, Ospreay pinned BUSHI with the Hidden Blade.
Will Ospreay pinned BUSHI via Hidden Blade (9:27)
This was an LIJ T-shirt special. There were some decent moments, like Naito working over Cobb’s knee to soften it up for tomorrow, but this was a basic, uninspiring undercard tag match.
Katsuyori Shibata vs X
This was Shibata’s first match since the infamous match with Kazuchika Okada on 9th April 2017. By New Japan standards, this was the closest thing that New Japan had to WWE bringing in Brock Lesnar. The hope was that this could lead to some changes in the New Japan product. X was revealed to be Ren Narita, who had been training under Shibata at the LA Dojo. Before the match, Shibata got on the mic and announced that the match was under normal wrestling rules.
Shibata showed his experience and skills early on with the initial grappling. After a slick headlock sequence, Shibata went for the Penalty Kick but Narita dodged. Shibata weakened Narita using a Figure Four Leg Lock, but Narita cut off the hesitation dropkick and stood on Shibata’s face. Narita threw some middle kicks, but Shibata took him down with an STO. Shibata used his trademark corner kicks before hitting the hesitation dropkick to big applause. Narita fought back and locked in the Narita Special, repeatedly looking for leg submissions. Shibata kicked Narita out of the ring with a middle kick. Narita went for big slaps, but Shibata dodged those. After blocking a belly-to-belly suplex, Shibata won a fight over a Cobra Stretch, hit a backdrop suplex, and then used the Rainmaker style slap from the Sakura Genesis Okada match. Shibata held the wrist as he kicked away at Narita’s chest. Narita kicked out of a big boot and a Lariat before forcing Shibata to cover up from a flurry of kicks. Shibata fought back with leg kicks before locking in a sleeper and hitting the Penalty Kick to win the match.
Katsuyori Shibata pinned Ren Narita via Penalty Kick (11:46)
Well, that was great. It did not grab me as I thought it would, but that may have been my expectations. Honestly, I don’t know if anything would have met my expectations. The match was designed to give Narita the rub while giving Shibata an opponent who knew Shibata’s limits. The style felt fresh, and it felt like a traditional Bushiroad era Shibata match. The only thing that was missing were strikes to the head, with Narita clearly avoiding strikes to the head and Shibata not taking any big slams. Narita did an excellent job here, and he has a big opportunity if he returns without being saddled with a bad gimmick. I loved how Shibata won by using the leg kicks to force Narita to stop striking. More than anything else on this show, this was the one that felt like it needed a vocal crowd to make it feel extra special.
New Japan announced a return to AXS TV in the USA in March, acting as part of a TV block with Impact Wrestling.
NEVER Openweight Championship: Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs EVIL
Stylistically, Ishii and EVIL are a great fit. Sorry, they WERE a great fit, before EVIL switched to his current style. EVIL jumped Ishii, which was good. He then went for his convoluted chair spot, which was bad. Ishii grabbed a chair, and we had a chair fight, which was good. Dick Togo got involved, which was bad. EVIL then rammed Ishii into the ring announcer, which was worse.
EVIL dominated Ishii using exposed turnbuckles and Dick Togo interference. This had ridiculous levels of interference, even by the usual standards of EVIL matches. Both Yujiro Takahashi and Dick Togo got involved, although Ishii fought them off. Sho then got involved and hit a German Suplex before Yoh saved Ishii and hit the House of Torture with a Plancha. Ishii avoided the EVIL and a mule kick, hitting an Enziguri. Yoh grabbed Togo as Ishii got a nearfall with a Lariat. Sho then grabbed the referee’s leg, letting Yujiro hit a low blow and EVIL hit Ishii with the NEVER belt before pinning Ishii with the EVIL.
EVIL pinned Tomohiro Ishii via EVIL (12:10)
I have seen every EVIL vs Naito title match. I have seen multiple EVIL G1 Climax matches. I cannot think of an EVIL match with so much consistent interference as this one. Ishii did his best with his selling and comebacks, but the heel shtick was constant and just sapped my enjoyment of the match. I get that not everything on a New Japan show will be for me, but this was so excessive that I can’t see how it benefits New Japan, especially when the crowd cannot audibly react. This was a frustrating match.
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Zack Sabre Jr & Taichi (c) vs YOSHI-HASHI & Hirooki Goto
This was a match that I looked forward to, but it was also the fourth match between these two teams in the last thirteen months. Goto & YOSHI-HASHI tried to use teamwork to get an early advantage but Taichi cut them off. Sabre Jr and Taichi isolated YOSHI-HASHI, who made the hot tag after a headhunter neckbreaker. Goto cleaned house but Sabre Jr got back into it by targeting the arm. After an action-packed sequence, all four men were down in the ring.
Sabre Jr locked in a modified Octopus stretch while Taichi had YOSHI-HASHI trapped in the stretch plum, but Goto reached the ropes. Taichi came in and Dangerous Tekkers hit a Backdrop suplex-Chokeslam for a near fall. Goto nearly stole the win with the Goto Shiki cradle before Sabre Jr nearly did the same with the European Clutch. Both YOSHI-HASHI and Taichi tagged in, slugging it out in the middle of the ring. Taichi eventually took YOSHI-HASHI down with a backdrop suplex for a nearfall. YOSHI-HASHI and Taichi traded Superkicks before YOSHI-HASHI avoided the Zack Mephisto and hit a Lariat for a nearfall. Taichi blocked the Karma, but Goto and YOSHI-HASHI used their double teams, only for Sabre Jr to make a desperate save. Sabre Jr was taken out with the GYR, but Taichi avoided the Naraku and nearly stole the win with a Gedo Clutch. Taichi fought back and fired up, only for YOSHI-HASHI to counter the Zack Mephisto with a Canadian Destroyer before Goto and YOSHI-HASHI hit the Naraku on Taichi to win the match and become the new tag team champions.
YOSHI-HASHI pinned Taichi via Naraku (15:27)
This was a very good, very solid tag team match. Taichi and Sabre Jr are a good team and YOSHI-HASHI and Goto have grown into a good face tag team. This felt a little scrappy at times, but this was constantly moving, with lots of good dramatic changes in pace and control. It felt like an even contest, with lots of good twists. The match time made this feel tight and it never felt dull. The match also felt like a passing of the torch, with the role of Tag Team Champions being a perfect fit for Goto and YOSHI-HASHI.
IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship: El Desperado (c) vs Hiromu Takahashi
We had already seen this match three times in the last thirteen months. That is one of the limitations of single-block tournaments. Then again, the 2020 BOSJ final between these two was fantastic. Takahashi’s entrance gear was best described as psychedelic octopus. Desperado wore all-white gear.
After a quick start, Takahashi tried to use the D submission but Desperado quickly escaped. They traded bombs before Desperado hit the Tope Con Hilo, only for Takahashi to fire back with the sunset flip powerbomb on the outside. After beating a double count-out they traded forearms, with Takahashi dominating the exchange.
Desperado fought back with a spinebuster and the Guitarra del Angel for a nearfall. A frog splash earned Desperado another nearfall, with Takahashi fighting back using a pop-up powerbomb. It was Takahashi’s turn to hit Desperado with bombs, getting a two count with the Dynamite Plunger. Desperado fought back with a desperate crucifix pin before a long, intricate counter sequence ending with Takahashi countering the Numero Dos with a Canadian Destroyer.
Takahashi smiled after hitting a Lariat. Desperado nearly stole the win with a surprise pinning combination, but Takahashi used a superkick to stop any change in momentum. Takahashi got spiked with a Jig and Tonic, but he still kicked out. Desperado used a straight punch to the jaw before hitting Pinche Loco, only for Takahashi to escape a second one and get a big nearfall with a cradle, followed by Takahashi punching Desperado in the jaw. Desperado fired back with another punch before hitting the double Pinche Loco for the three-count and a surprising win.
El Desperado pinned Hiromu Takahashi via Pinche Loco (16:18)
This was another very good match. While it was not on the level of their BOSJ 2020 match, it was another great match between these two. The decision to make this a 15-minute sprint was perfect, as there was a sense of energy that was not in any of the earlier matches. This was frantic, full of big bombs and action with some small character moments peppered in. The style will not be for everyone, and there are the usual criticisms for matches that focus more on action and bombs, but this was very satisfying. It also felt like a huge moment for Desperado, almost like him finally becoming a true star for the junior division.
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship: Shingo Takagi (c) vs Kazuchika Okada
Can you spot the theme for the top three matches on this show? Yes, this was another match that we have seen three times in the last thirteen months. Okada’s entrance robe was reminiscent of Antonio Inoki’s entrance robes. It was white with the history of New Japan in gold, a good touch in New Japan’s 50th year. Takagi had a big match version of his theme music.
This started slow and cagey, after a Takagi clothesline to the outside, Okada hit a DDT on the floor, but Takagi fought through it and hit a suplex on the floor. Back in the ring, Takagi targeted Okada’s back and midsection. Okada used his speed to gain control before dropkicking Takagi off the top rope and using the running crossbody on the floor. A missile dropkick earned Okada a two-count. Takagi escaped the money clip and fired back with the Yukon DDT. He followed that with the Noshigami and the wheelbarrow German suplex, only for Okada to counter a Sliding D into the Money Clip.
Takagi nearly escaped but Okada reapplied the hold, forcing Takagi to reach the ropes. Okada went for the Rainmaker, but Takagi countered it with a huge Lariat. Takagi did the Rainmaker pose, which enraged Okada and led to a big running strike exchange that Takagi won with a Pumping Bomber.
They ended up on the ramp, where they both teased a Tombstone. Takagi hit Okada with a DVD on the ramp, which leads to a nineteen count on the floor. Takagi used a Superplex and a sliding Lariat. Okada blocked Made in Japan and hit a big dropkick before using the backslide version of the Rainmaker. Takagi fought back with a quick Made in Japan for a two count, then a regular Made in Japan for a closer nearfall. Takagi flattened Okada with a Pumping Bomber for another nearfall. When Takagi went for the Last of the Dragon, Okada slipped out and hit a desperate Rainmaker.
They traded forearms, with Okada graduating to European uppercuts. Takagi fought back using both elbows, only for Okada to come back with another Money Clip attempt. Takagi climbed to the top with Okada on his shoulders, only for Okada to fight back with a DDT off the top rope. Okada hit a German suplex, but he missed the follow-up Rainmaker and got downed with another big Takagi Lariat. After escaping the Last of the Dragon Okada got caught with a Dragon Suplex, only to hit a dropkick, a sit-out Tombstone, and then a Rainmaker to win the match.
After the match, Okada initially refused the IWGP World title. He bowed to the IWGP Heavyweight Title and said thank you to the belt before letting the referee place the IWGP World Heavyweight Title around his waist. Will Ospreay then came out and did his impression of a ring announcer. Ospreay tells Okada to go be an actor as New Japan will be safe in Ospreay’s hands. Okada called Ospreay a fake champion.
Kazuchika Okada pinned Shingo Takagi via Rainmaker (35:44)
This was the kind of main event that people expect from the Tokyo Dome. After an inconsequential opening sequence, the second half of this match was one long, all-action finishing stretches full of big near falls and drama. Aside from a little too much no selling, Takagi was his usual charismatic, fiery self. This had all the big high-impact moves and fire that we have seen from Takagi’s reign.
In many ways, this was the Okada formula, but it was what people wanted. Big Okada matches are like big-budget action films with great actors. At their worst, they are eye-catching spectacles that drag during the setup but win you over with the action, although you recognize the tropes. At their best you get the same thing but with a tighter, more interesting setup, a strong story arc, great character moments, and better drama. This was somewhere in the middle. While it did not have the most engaging first half and lacked an obvious story arc, this felt like a huge deal with Takagi trying to prove himself against a resurgent Okada who felt closer to his best than he has done for years.
This was a great Okada match, one of his best in years. That said, this won’t change your mind on Okada matches. Wrestle Kingdom shows need big, spectacular main events and that was what this was.
On paper, this was a show with some very good to great matches and a lot of potential dross. I think everything met those expectations, with the exception of maybe Yoh vs Sho. The main event was well worth a watch unless you are utterly tired of the Okada formula, in which case this would not change your mind. Desperado vs Takahashi was a great, fun sprint that was a great lead-in to the main event without being excellent. The Tag title match was the kind of match that the tag division should be delivering: tight, exciting, and engaging while getting the most out of two wrestlers who are lost in the shuffle normally. Shibata vs Narita was a great feel-good match, with some warning signs for where Shibata goes from here but also a great moment for Narita.
Everything else on this show is easily skippable. Some will enjoy Sho vs Yoh more than I did but everything else had nothing to add and EVIL vs Ishii was one of the most frustrating matches that you will watch all year.
On the whole, this show had some great moments that set things up for the future but in many ways, it felt like more of the same. Personally, I think that the New Japan Cup tour is going to be a good indication of what New Japan’s 2022 looks like, but I’m not that optimistic right now. It’s easy to put on a couple of great cards with New Japan’s roster, it’s hard to stretch it out across a year when you’ve already burned out most matchups due to the way your annual tournaments are laid out.