Wrestle Kingdom XVI Night One
Date: January 4, 2022
Location: Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan
Commentators: Chris Charlton, Kevin Kelly
It’s back to Japan for the first time in about a year, though the company does feel a good bit colder this time around. The pandemic and a slew of injuries have battered New Japan, but this show’s reputation is more than enough to warrant a look. The main event of this first night is Kazuchika Okada challenging Shingo Takagi for the IWGP World Title, with the winner facing Will Ospreay tomorrow night. Let’s get to it.
Note that I do not regularly follow New Japan so I won’t know much in the way of storylines or recent character development. Please bear with me if I miss something that commentary does not explain.
Pre-Show: New Japan Ranbo
This is a 19 man Royal Rumble and over the top/pinfall/submission eliminations with one minute intervals. The final four advancing to a four way on night two for the Provisional King Of Pro Wrestling 2022 Trophy. Chase Owens is in at #1 and Aaron Henare is in at #2 The rather muscular Henare fires off knees in the corner to start but gets sent into the buckle for a breather. Kosei Fujita (a Young Lion) is in at #3 and goes after Owens, who cuts him off with a backbreaker.
Henare runs Owens over and it’s Yuto Nakashima (another Young Lion) in at #4. The four pair off and it’s Ryohei Oiwa (third Young Lion in a row) in at #5 with a suplex to Owens. The Young Lions get beaten down near the apron though and it’s Master Wato in at #6. Wato strikes away at Henare and Owens until Hiroyoshi Tenzan is in at #7. His entrance takes so long that all he can do is hit some headbutts before Minoru Suzuki is in at #8. That takes a VERY long time so we can get to the big part of his music but Suzuki makes up for the time by eliminating all three Young Lions (by submission of course) in a hurry.
Satoshi Kojima is in at #9 and it’s Kojima and Tenzan double teaming Suzuki. Taka Michinoku is in at #10 and walks right into a Tenkoji Cutter (3D). Cima is in at #11 for his first New Japan appearance since 2009 as Taka is pinned. Tomoa Honma is in at #12 as Wato and Cima fight. Wato is tossed so Honma beats up Cima instead as Douki is in at #13. Everyone brawls and it’s Yuji Nagata coming in at #14 for a slugout with Suzuki.
Yoshinobu Kanemaru is in at #15 as there is no time between these entrances. Kanemaru has a bottle of whiskey as he comes to the ring slowly again, where he spits said whiskey in Tenzan’s eyes for the rollup pin. Togi Makabe is in at #16 and we get the always odd muted music due to copyright issues. Nagata belly to back suplexes Kojima and a bunch of people pile on for the pin.
Bad Luck Fale is in at #17 and gets jumped by a bunch of people. That doesn’t seem to matter as he tosses Douki, Honma and Nagata in a hurry. Sixty eight year old Tatsumi Fujinami is in at #18 for a dragon screw legwhip on Fale. That lets Makabe clothesline Fale out as the field keeps thinning. Toru Yano, the 2021 KOPW Champion, is in at #19 to complete the field, giving us Owens, Minoru Suzuki, Cima, Makabe, Fujinami and Yano. Fujinami Figure Fours Makabe as Yano low bridges Henare out. Makabe and Fujinami get covered for the double pin and it’s Owens, Suzuki, Cima and Yano winning at 27:01.
Rating: C. It’s hard to grade something like this as it isn’t about having a quality match but rather flying through the entrances to get people into the ring. I do like the idea of the final four doing something as there is only so much to win from a lower card/legends Royal Rumble. This was the usually entertaining warmup and it did everything it was supposed to do.
It’s New Japan’s 50th anniversary so we see a highlight package on Antonio Inoki, who welcomes us to the show.
Opening video, featuring the card rundown (in order, as usual).
Yoh vs. Sho
They were friends and partners for a long time until Sho (now part of the pretty awesomely named House Of Torture stable) turned on him. Yoh knocks him outside to start and hits the big flip dive for a bonus. They go up the ramp, where Yoh can’t toss him off onto the floor. Sho slams him down instead and beats up someone standing near the ramp. Yoh crawls back to ringside, where Sho teases a dive but opts for a whip into the barricade instead.
Back in and Yoh shrugs off a beating in the corner and grabs a dragon screw legwhip. A bunch of forearms rock Sho again and Yoh stomps away at the chest. Sho gets up so Yoh dropkicks him back down, bugging Sho’s eyes out as a result. With nothing else working, Sho pulls the referee in the way for a distraction so he can spear Yoh down. Now it’s Sho hitting his own stomps, setting up a powerbomb and crossarm piledriver for two.
What sounds like Shock Arrow is countered into a Calf Crusher (or close enough) and Sho is in trouble. Cue Sho’s manager Dick Togo for a distraction though and Sho’s tap is missed. Yoh gets caught in a triangle choke but keeps his arm up, allowing him to kind of dance over to the ropes. Togo throws in a wrench, but Yoh sends Sho into him, setting up the bridging cradle to finish Sho at 12:33.
Rating: C+. Nice choice for an opener here as they have a rather detailed history and Yoh gets to overcome the odds/cheating to win. I can’t imagine this is the end of their feud but at least Yoh gets the big win. They didn’t do anything groundbreaking here but sometimes you need a story that is easy to understand and covers all of the bases, which is what they did here.
Post match Sho and Togo go after him again but Yoh clears them out without much effort.
Bullet Club vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi/Mega Coaches
It’s Kenta/Taiji Ishimori/El Phantasmo for the Club and the Mega Coaches are Ryusuke Taguchi/Rocky Romero. This is mainly a preview for Tanahashi vs. Kenta, who are facing off for Kenta’s US Title tomorrow, though the other four are involved in a triple threat Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title match tomorrow as well. Romero and Phantasmo start things off, with the latter cartwheeling out of a hurricanrana attempt.
A middle rope hurricanrana takes Phantasmo down though and it’s off to Taguchi vs. Ishimori. Taguchi sends him into the corner and it’s the Coaches alternating running shots in the corner to Phantasmo and Ishimori. Kenta comes in and is sent into the back of Taguchi’s tights (it’s his thing) so his partners tie Taguchi in the Tree of Woe for a painful double stomp.
We settle down to Phantasmo doing about ten springboards into a back rake, allowing Ishimori to come in for a rake to the eyes. Taguchi gets out of the way in a hurry though and the hot tag brings in Tanahashi to clean house. A dragon screw legwhip takes Kenta down but the referee gets knocked outside.
Kenta hits a DDT on Tanahashi and since there is no referee, the kendo stick comes in to keep Tanahashi in trouble. The Coaches come back in for the save though and the dives take out Phantasmo and Ishimori. Tanahashi grabs the kendo stick and unloads on Kenta, earning himself the DQ from the revived referee at 8:40.
Rating: C. Pretty run of the mill tag match here, which was little more than a way to set things up for tomorrow. That’s a perfectly fine way to go, as the match did its job well, with some good enough action. Tanahashi snapping is cool to see, and should make the No DQ title match that much better. Not a great match, but it did what it needed to do.
United Empire vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon
That would be Will Ospreay/Great-O-Khan/Jeff Cobb vs. Tetsuya Naito/Sanada/Bushi. It’s also a double preview, as tomorrow we have Khan vs. Sanada and Naito vs. Cobb. Ospreay also has his REAL World Title, as he never lost the title but was stripped due to an injury. Cobb mocks Naito with the Tranquilo pose during his entrance for a nice little mind game.
The Empire jumps them before the bell and we start fast, as probably fits for the villains. Cobb drives Naito hard into the corner and everyone is on the floor in a hurry. They get back inside with Khan kneeing and chopping Naito down for two. Ospreay comes back in, sends Naito into the corner, and hands it back to Cobb (because he is smart enough to not waste energy before his World Title match tomorrow). Naito manages to get a breather from Cobb and Los Ingobernables come in for a series of dropkicks.
Sanada Paradise Locks Khan, who manages to send Sanada outside. Khan can’t bring himself to dive though, instead settling for a head and arm choke back inside. That’s broken up and Sanada manages a springboard missile dropkick, allowing the tag off to Bushi. Khan runs him over as well so it’s back to Ospreay for a Phenomenal Forearm. Everything breaks down and it’s Sanada vs. Khan again, with neither being able to hit a finisher. Ospreay can’t Stormbreaker Bushi but he can powerbomb him for two. The Hidden Blade is enough to finish Bushi at 9:29.
Rating: C+. This was a more interesting match and it felt like the people were a bit more invested this time. What amazes me the most is Khan, who was in one of the weaker matches at last year’s show but has completely turned things around. He was an effective looking monster here and a good part of the match. Ospreay did look to be a few steps ahead of everyone else here and once he stayed in, the match didn’t last long. Logical match here and they had some energy so well done.
A lot of glaring ensues post match and the Empire seems to promise to win tomorrow.
Ren Narita vs. Katsuyori Shibata
Shibata is a rather hard hitter who has been out of action since 2018 after an injury seemed to force him into retirement. He wrestled a special rules match back in October but this is his first regular match. Well regular enough, as strikes are prohibited and it is catch as catch can rules. Narita is a surprise opponent and one of Shibata’s students. Before the bell, Shibata challenges Narita to make this regular rules and it’s game on.
They go with the grapple off to start with neither being able to get very far. Commentary talks about Karl Gotch being such a huge influence on wrestling in Japan. They fight over a headlock until Shibata misses the PK. Instead it’s a Figure Four to put Narita in trouble until a rope is grabbed. Narita is up with a bunch of stomping in the corner and the referee gets shoved down.
Shibata is fine enough to hit an STO and some hard forearms in the corner. There’s the running basement dropkick in the corner but Narita counters an armbar into something like a Texas Cloverleaf. That’s broken up as well and Shibata strikes him out to the floor. Back in and Shibata grabs a belly to back suplex into a clothesline, followed by some rapid fire kicks. A sleeper sets up the PK to finish Narita at 11:48.
Rating: C. I’m not quite sure what to make of this one, as it was mostly a squash for Shibata but that isn’t the point here. This was about Shibata getting to come back on the big stage after his career was over for a few years. It’s a feel good moment and having him face his student was a great idea. The point here isn’t the match, but rather that the match was able to take place and that is impressive given the layoff.
On March 3, New Japan is back on AXS TV.
Strong Spirits is on February 28.
Never Openweight Title: Evil vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Ishii is defending and Evil has Dick Togo with him. Evil jumps Ishii on the floor and sends him into the post (with the bell ringing as they make contact). It’s already time for some chairs and the duel is on. A Togo distraction lets Evil send him into the barricade as this is the hardcore section of the show.
They actually get inside with Ishii being sent hard into the corner as Kelly complains about Togo’s interference. Some mocking kicks to the head wake Ishii up and he blasts Evil with a clothesline. The belly to back suplex drops Evil and a heck of a running clothesline out of the corner does it again. A superplex is loaded up and, despite his bad back, Ishii gets him over for another near fall.
Togo offers a distraction though and the referee gets bumped. That’s enough for Togo and Yujiro Takahashi to come in and go after Ishii…who clears them off in a hurry. Cue Sho but Yoh comes out to break that up. Another referee comes in and Ishii hits an enziguri into another clothesline. Yoh cuts off Togo from bringing in the title but the distraction lets Yujiro hit Ishii low. A belt shot and Everything Is Evil gives Evil the title at 12:09.
Rating: D+. This felt out of place, as it was all the interference and the weapons not feeling like they belong on this show. Ishii was his usual self, though you can tell he is getting older and doesn’t move as well as he did before. Evil seems to be getting a lot bigger though and more built around the weapons and the violence. This really didn’t work and was easily the weakest thing on the show so far.
Tag Team Titles: Chaos vs. Dangerous Tekkers
Hirooki Goto/Yoshi-Hashi are challenging for Chaos after winning the World Tag League. The Tekkers (Zack Sabre Jr./Taichi) have Miho Abe with them. We get a long staredown before the bell until Sabre and Hashi start things off. That doesn’t work for Chaos though so Goto comes in for a double shoulder and a bunch of pounding on the back. Everything breaks down in a hurry and all four go outside.
The Tekkers take over and it’s Sabre coming back inside for a headscissors on Hashi. Taichi chokes away and Sabre adds a cravate hold, only to have Hashi elbow his way to freedom. Goto comes in for a running shoulder in the corner but Sabre calmly pulls him into an Octopus hold, because Sabre is smooth enough to do just that. Everyone comes in and it’s a four way knockdown to give them a breather. The Tekkers are up first with stereo holds, but Goto makes the ropes and Taichi just lets go of Hashi.
Taichi TAKES OFF HIS PANTS, with the distraction allowing Goto to roll Sabre up for two. The European Clutch gives Sabre the same but Sabre is sent outside. Hashi and Taichi slug it out until Hashi gets caught with a belly to back suplex for two. Back up and Hashi hits a superkick, only to charge into a kick to the face of his own. Hashi kicks Sabre down and it’s a superkick into the fireman’s carry backbreaker to knock Taichi silly.
A powerbomb/GTR combination connects for two with Sabre having to make the save. Sabre and Goto go outside, leaving Taichi to roll Hashi up for two. Another powerbomb/GTR combination hits Sabre but this time it’s Taichi taking both of them down for a breather. Goto is back up with another GTR to Taichi, followed by an assisted powerbomb swung into a neckbreaker to give Hashi the pin and the titles at 15:29.
Rating: B-. This felt more like a fight while still being a tag match and that worked well. What was interesting here was the champs didn’t exactly feel like they were in control at all near the end, making Hashi and Goto seem rather dominant. It was a good match and the best thing on the show so far, which is a bit of a lower bar to clear than I would have expected.
Respect is shown post match.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title: El Desperado vs. Hiromu Takahashi
Takahashi is challenging after winning the Best of the Super Juniors. Commentary puts over the idea that Desperado is defending but has to beat Takahashi to really stake his claim as a great champion. These two also have a long history together, including a recent time limit draw. They go straight to the slugout to start before chopping it out to keep up the theme. With that not working, it’s an exchange of running forearms with neither really getting the better of things again.
Takahashi tries a triangle choke but gets powerbombed away in a hurry. Desperado sends him outside for a dive, only to get caught in a sunset bomb. Back in and the slug it out from their knees with Takahashi knocking him into the corner. Desperado is back with a spinebuster and something like an abdominal stretch lifted into a powerbomb for two. Takahashi grabs a pop up sitout powerbomb though and they’re both down for a bit.
A belly to belly into the corner drops Desperado again and the Dynamite Plunger gives Takahashi two. Takahashi grabs a fireman’s carry but Desperado slips out, sending them into a chain of escapes and reversals. Another Time Bomb attempt is countered into a Stretch Muffler, with Desperado going for the arms as well.
That’s broken up as well so Takahashi is back up with a hard clothesline. A superkick nails Desperado but he is right back with a sunset driver for two. Desperado cuts him off with a right hand though and a double underhook facebuster gets two more. Takahashi gets dropped by a right hand and two more double underhook facebusters finish for Desperado (with the Undertaker pin) at 16:17.
Rating: B+. That’s the really good match the show has been needing and it was a heck of a fight. They set up the idea that Desperado didn’t just need to win but to flat out defeat Takahashi and that’s how it felt in the end. It felt like a major match and potentially an official changing of the guard, which is what commentary said Desperado needed. Awesome match here and the first that really felt worthy of being a major showdown on this show.
IWGP World Heavyweight Title: Kazuchika Okada vs. Shingo Takagi
Okada is challenging and I love that role call of champions deal, even if this title only has a few months of history. This comes after Okada won the G1 Climax, meaning he gets to carry around a belt signifying the title match instead of the briefcase, which is a bit confusing until commentary explains it (like they’re supposed to do). Feeling out process to start (Kelly: “Wrestling start to this championship match.”) with neither being able to get very far.
Okada takes him up against the rope and grabs a headlock, which is broken just as quickly. An exchange of shoulders sets up Okada’s neckbreaker, followed by a chinlock. Back up and Takagi manages to backdrop him to the floor for a breather. Okada tries a DDT on the floor but gets suplexed for his efforts to bang up his back. They go back inside where a belly to back suplex and a bodyscissors stay on Okada’s back some more. Okada fights up and gets in a knockdown of his own, followed by a flapjack and a DDT.
A dropkick knocks Takagi off the top and out to the floor (that really is one of the best dropkicks ever) and there’s a big boot to send Takagi over the barricade. The running crossbody over said barricade drops Takagi again and we hit the Money Clip (modified cobra clutch) back inside. That’s broken up and Takagi manages a quick DDT for a breather. Something like a Gory Bomb (named after wrapping paper, because it’s putting a bow on victories) plants Okada but he counters a clothesline into another Money Clip.
That’s broken up and Takagi blasts him with a lariat of his own for a double knockdown. Back up and Takagi strikes the Rainmaker poser to make Okada snap, meaning it’s time to trade shots. A hard clothesline drops Okada and they head outside. Okada can’t Tombstone him on the ramp but Takagi can hit a Death Valley Driver on said ramp. They both beat the count back in, where Takagi hits a superplex to damage the back even more. Made In Japan is countered and Okada hits a dropkick but the Rainmaker is countered into Made In Japan for two.
Takagi’s running clothesline gets two more but Last of the Dragon is countered into the Rainmaker for another double knockdown. They slug it out from their knees and keep it going on their feet with Takagi getting the better of things. Takagi takes him up top, where Okada counters….something into a super DDT. The Rainmaker is countered again, this time into a hard lariat on Okada. The Tombstone is countered again so Okada settles for the dropkick into the Rainmaker for the pin and the title at 35:52.
Rating: A-. That was a very sudden ending to a pretty awesome match. This was about two guys trying to survive with the Rainmaker being the big difference maker. Takagi gave this everything he had and came as close as you could get without the Last of the Dragon connecting. It felt like a heavyweight battle and Okada winning is never a bad thing. Main event quality match here and that’s not a surprise.
Post match Okada shows respect to the title, the crowd and Takagi but here is Will Ospreay to interrupt. Ospreay says Okada’s gear looks cheap but congratulates him on a hard fought match. He didn’t break a sweat in his match so he’ll see Okada tomorrow. Okada says goodbye fake champ and an annoyed Ospreay leaves.
With that out of the way, Okada thanks Takagi and wishes the crowd a happy new year. The IWGP Title was a great championship but now it is time for the new belt. However, the original title deserves some applause and Okada promises to lead the company to more great matches. Next year, let’s have a full house.
Commentary recaps the night and previews tomorrow’s show.
Overall Rating: B. This wasn’t quite up to the top levels of the show, but that’s a pretty lofty goal on any given night. What we got instead was a rather good show, capped off by a pair of awesome matches. The rest of the show was hit or miss, with the Evil vs. Ishii match being rather lame. The last two matches are worth seeing and the rest you might want to pick and choose, but it’s certainly a good show and worth a look, even with the scaled back crowd.
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