Tuesday, January 4, 2022

NJPW: Wrestle Kingdom 16 Night One Review - January 4th, 2022

New Japan Pro Wrestling
Wrestle Kingdom 16 - Night One
January 4th, 2022
Tokyo, Japan

1) Sho (w/ Dick Togo) (BULLET CLUB) vs. YOH (CHAOS)

This is a story that I missed unfolding for the most part. Sho turned heel on his Roppongi 3k partner because he felt like Yoh wasn’t pulling his weight. Yoh made it to the Best of the Super Juniors finals late last year which really proved that point wrong. Sho obviously is pissed about this which adds to the heat of this one. This opens the show which is a nice change of pace because most WK’s I’ve watched in recent years have opened with a tag of some sort so getting a nice little juniors grudge match was a fun change of pace. It’s really a simply worked match, nothing crazy, but good for what it is. Sho works super well as the heel aggressor and Yoh sells his ass off underneath. The finish is really well done with YOH selling the fuck out of SHO’s submission, looking like he’s about to go out, only to escape and score a flash pin for the victory. Good likeable babyface shit using some sly tactics to outsmart the sneaky heel. 

Match rating - **3/4

2) Hiroshi Tanahashi, Rocky Romero, & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. KENTA, El Phantasmo, & Taiji Ishimori (BULLET CLUB)

God, Tana/Rocky/Taguchi.. what a babyface unit. This is really just to tease and sell a little further the KENTA/Tana match that's happening tomorrow night as well as the junior tag match that happens tomorrow night. The big takeaway is the KENTA and Tana stuff though as things end in a DQ when Tana snaps (rare!!!) and uses a kendo stick. He & KENTA face off tomorrow in a No DQ Match for the IWGP US Title. This was decent and did what it set out to do while not overstaying it's welcome, no complaints.

Match rating - **1/4

3) Will Ospreay, Jeff Cobb, & Great O' Khan (UNITED EMPITE) vs. Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, & BUSHI (LIJ)

This was another one of those matches like the previous trios match. Just here to get these fellas on the card and hype their matches tomorrow. The selfish man in me wanted more Naito/Ospreay interaction, but I shoulda known they are gonna want to keep those two and Cobb fresh for tomorrow's big matches. We got a lot of O'Khan/SANADA here and it was much more fun than I anticipated. I may actually be kind of looking forward to their match tomorrow. Ospreay wins for his team with a pin on BUSHI via the Hidden Blade.

Match rating - **1/2

4) Katsuyori Shibata vs. Ren Narita

DAMN. What a huge match for Narita. Before things get going, Shibata gets the mic and says this is full on normal wrestling rules so strikes ARE allowed. OHHH MANNN. They grapple early. Narita tries to work the right leg of Shibata and goes for it multiple times throughout the contest. Shibata gradually finds his groove hitting his first array of elbows since his return and the running corner drop kick which I popped for. Down the stretch, we see Shibata lay in a slap or two and some stiff kicks, coaxing his trainee to step up and fire at him. Narita does just that firing up with some kicks, but Shibata wins the exchange and hits the PK for the win. They are obviously easing Shibata back into things so all things considered this was great for what it was and a huge moment for Narita, a future star. It's also nice seeing Shibata bring something different to these otherwise repetitive and dull modern NJPW cards. Welcome back, king <3

Match rating - ***1/2

5) Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs. EVIL - NEVER Openweight Title Match

Oh, poor NEVER title.. you go from Shingo/Cobb tearing it up last year at WK to this.. Ishii defending against EVIL in an interference ridden match. It's a shame for Ishii too, who is one of the best wrestlers in the company, but is saddled with this shit on the biggest show of the year. Togo gets involved, then Takahashi does. There's a ref bump. SHO runs down so YOH runs down for the save. The only fun or cool spot of all this overbooking. They have a decent exchange in the finishing run before EVIL wins to become new NEVER Champion.. GREAT. 

Match rating - *

6) Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi (c) (SUZUKI-gun) vs. Hirooki Goto & YOSHI HASHI (CHAOS) - IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Title Match

DANGEROUS TEKKERS have sneakily become a very enjoyable act for me. I can’t believe I was saying fuck Taichi a few years ago. Anyways, they’ve been dominant as hell in the past year. Holding the titles for the majority of the year. Yoshi & Goto are part of one of the most successful trios (ever?) in recent years so this is kind of a nice, sort of important tag title match? The Tekkers isolate Yoshi early and it’s fun. This builds to the GOTO hot tag and things sort of break down for a minute before returning to form. It isn’t long before shit REALLY breaks down though, but it’s with Taichi and YOSHI HASHI having a blast of an exchange throwing super kicks and shit which leads to a stalemate. This was really not a bad match at all and maybe one of the better IWGP Heavyweight tags in recent WK history? Just simple, to the point, and thankfully not an overblown 30-40 minute Tekkers match PLUS we get a happy ending! YOSHI AND GOTO ARE TAG CHAMPS AND YOSHI IS SO HAPPY ITS HIS FIRST TIME !!

Match rating - ***

7) El Desperado (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi - IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title Match 

These two have had some BANGERS. I mean, shit, I went damn near five stars on their BOSJ final in 2020. And speaking of that, this story is really quite awesome and they built off that final into the two not having another singles match until the BOSJ tournament this year, just a month and a half ago. I still need to watch that match, but rumor is it was just as great of a contest and it went to a 30 minute draw. 

Takahashi defeated Despy in 2020 to win the tournament, and in 2021, they wrestled to a draw in Takahashi’s route to winning the tournament. No matter what, through his whole career, it’s seemed that Despy just can’t defeat or outshine Takahashi. Despy had a superb year in 2021, holding the IWGP Jr Title, but then came the BOSJ and he couldn’t beat his greatest rival and watched him make the finals and win for the second year in a row. You know that ate him up and that led us to here, the perfect final chapter (for now), of this feud. 

They took a different approach to this than their prior matches. Considering their last match was a draw, both men came into this with guns blazing wanting the victory. It’s fists and elbows flying immediately and it doesn’t slow down. Takahashi hits the sunset flip powerbomb off the apron early, if that tells you anything. 

I will say, This wasn’t on the level of their 2020 BOSJ by any means, but I really appreciated it for what it was and I think it was the fitting ending to this rivalry and the perfect way to give Despy his moment. The two trade moves in desperation to be the better man. Desperado sports a swollen eye that can be noticed through his mask from all the stiff shots that are thrown. In the end, it’s all worth it as he finally defeats Hiromu Takahashi to retain the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title and solidify himself as not just the junior heavyweight champion, but a feature star in his own right. 

Match rating - ***1/4

8) Shingo Takagi (c) vs. Kazuchika Okada - IWGP Heavyweight Title Match 

It all comes down to this. The biggest match in Shingo Takagi’s underrated career. But after this run he’s had as IWGP Champion in 2021, underrated no more. Everything he’s done, though, culminates here. Defending the most prestigious title in Japan at the biggest event of the year against the biggest star of the decade. Shingo has beaten Okada before, but this is different. This is the Tokyo Dome, this is Wrestle Kingdom, and this is an Okada who has seemingly found himself again. Okada finding himself has been a story on & off since his historic IWGP Title reign ended. He’s held the title a time or two since then, but he’s not been on that same iconic level, arguably, since. This time, it feels like he’s about to finally finish the job and ascend back to the throne with an IWGP Title victory and it’s the new title, too, which has alluded him thus far in its short, barely a year, history. 

The momentum is just swinging super hard in the direction of him finally being the old Rainmaker. That’s what made this one hard for me, but played toward my investment. My heart wants Shingo to win, he’s been a favorite of mine for almost 10 years, but my head tells me it’s Okada’s time to regain the throne. Speaking of Okada, this could very well be the biggest match of his career as well, when you think about it. I personally think some of the Tana matches were bigger, but Okada does have a big weight on his shoulders and the pressure to deliver and prove he’s still the man after years of trying and failing. None the less, we get into this match and from the entrances, the big fight feel is there. From the moment that both men are in the ring, you can feel what this all means. It really is the culmination of two stories. In that regard, it hurt me admitting that I knew Shingo was losing this, but it didn’t take away from the match as it was happening. For me, this wasn’t about who HAS to win and biting on near falls like they had my heart in their hands. It was something different and much more story based. 

What I got out of this was 1) the culmination of Shingo Takagi’s first big title reign. The way they booked this tells me that there will undoubtedly be many more and their past booking techniques tell me that Shingo will be getting his Dome main event singles title win at some point in the next 1-3 years. Shingo took advantage of the opportunity given to him last year when injuries and Covid thinned the roster and seized the moment. You can’t say that’s the only reason he was able to either, though. Takagi beat Okada to become champion in the first place, god dammit. He’s beaten Okada several times, so this outcome really made the most sense. Shingo put New Japan on his back in 2021 and his reward was this Tokyo Dome main event against Kazuchika Okada and truthfully, it gets no bigger than this. Shingo got his run, carried the company, stole the show almost every time out, and here, he goes out with a bang looking like every bit of what he is - one of the best wrestlers in the world. 

The second thing that this was the culmination of was Okada’s return to form. I detailed it a bit earlier, but he’s had his road of failure and self doubt. We’d see him show signs of the old Okada, but not quite to the same consistent level. That all culminated here. The G1 Climax was the first step, then he brought back his old title belt for some added juice, then he showed up here ready to take back his throne in a fight against someone he knows is the best new thing in town. 

I really appreciated how they intertwined these two men’s roads into one perfect ending. And for every end, there’s a beginning. Now, we are headed toward another Kazuchika Okada title reign that I feel like could actually have some substance to it. As I’m typing this, I’m realizing how exciting the prospect of that is. Okada’s best work ever and my favorite work of his ever came during his historic title reign in 2016-2018.. i can only imagine he will want to live up to that here.. if it lasts, that is. As we all know, Okada’s first defense is tomorrow night on Night 2 of Wrestle Kingdom against Will Ospreay. I firmly believe Okada will and should walk out as champion, but I don’t want to write Ospreay off because you never know. But as I said about the feeling heading into this match.. it just feels like Okada’s time.

Ospreay isn’t on the Night 3 NJPW/NOAH show, Okada has teased facing CM Punk & Bryan Danielson in dream match scenarios, Ospreay isn’t even currently living in Japan at the moment (to my knowledge) and with Covid being so crazy right now, would NJPW want to risk having their champion stuck overseas again? I don’t think so. 

I think we are about to see another phenomenal run from Okada full of dream matches and maybe even some interpromotional competition. Despite my love for Shingo, I am very excited for what the prospect of this outcome brings. 

As for Shingo Takagi, this man doesn’t come out of here looking any less than he did going in and I think anyone who follows NJPW knows that his future is very bright and likely headed towards another Wrestle Kingdom main event next year. The redemption story of Shingo Takagi writes itself and I can’t wait to see him prove himself through the year 2022 like he did in 2021 and fight his way back to the championship that he helped establish. Although, I wouldn’t mind just seeing him rocking in the NEVER division again and getting that belt off fucking EVIL. None the less..

I’ve already rambled a lot and not really talked a lot about the action in this match, but this is one of those matches where I think seeing it yourself is better than some sort of analytic breakdown. I’m not a big play by play guy anyways. Some things I noted, though were the usual slow start that really dialed me in perfectly. Sometimes the slow New Japan/Okada starts feel dull and lifeless. This didn’t. It felt like we were building toward a classic professional wrestling world title match. The turning point came when Shingo hit a suplex on Okada on the floor and immediately went after the back and neck, as a result.

They didn’t lose sight of this as the match went on which I loved. All of Shingo’s offense was based on softening up the back & neck of Okada and when they fight to the floor late in the match after their first back MOVEZ flurry, Shingo nails Okada with a Death Valley Driver on the ramp that looks devastating. But before that, I can’t neglect to mention arguably my favorite part of the match. It’s probably also the true turning point of the match as a whole. Things went to a new level from this point forward. 

As Okada hits the rainmaker pose and goes for his first rainmaker of the match and SHINGO REVERSES AND NAILS HIM WITJ ONE OF HIS OWN. If that’s not insulting and defeating enough, Shingo strikes the rainmaker pose himself and the look of disgust on the reeling Okada’s face followed by the charge and assault on Shingo afterwards absolutely fucking RULED. 

As expected, this comes down to the two trading reversals and big moves. Okada kicks out of Made in Japan and Last of the Dragon. Shingo reverses rain makers and escapes multiple money clip submission attempts. Okada breaks out his signature drop kick and all his fun stuff and finishes Shingo off with ol’ faithful — the Rainmaker. 

An awesome main event and while not QUITE my favorite match these two have had, it’s definitely very close and is perfect in its own regard. Okada wins and defends against Ospreay tomorrow night and we will have to wait and see what’s to come for Mr. Takagi. 

Match rating - ****1/2

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