New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) kicks off the new year with its annual January 4 show, Wrestle Kingdom 16 in Tokyo Dome. The first of two nights of action, the main event will see the reigning and defending, but not so undisputed, IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, Shingo Takagi put his gold on the line against the winner of the G1 Climax 31, Kazuchika Okada. Though both Shingo and Okada will need to give it their all to claim victory, the winner of this match will go on to face the man who claims to still be the rightful champion, Will Ospreay, tomorrow night. In the semi-main even, El Desperado and Hiromu Takahashi continue their epic rivalry over the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, after Hiromu earned this title contest from winning the Best of the Super Juniors 28. The team of Zack Sabre Jr. and Taichi, collectively Dangerous Tekkers, will also defend their IWGP Tag Team Titles against the former champions, the duo of Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI of Chaos, while Goto and YOSHI-HASHI’s stablemate, Tomohiro Ishii defends the NEVER Openweight Championship against the leader of the House of Torture, EVIL.
In many ways more important than any championship, Night 1 of Wrestle Kingdom 16 will also see the return to in-ring competition for Katsuyori Shibata. Although only scheduled to be competed under Catch Wrestling rules, this will be Shibata’s first match since his IWGP Championship loss against Okada in 2017. Two huge multi-man tag team matches will act as previews for tomorrow night’s action, and former tag team partners collide, when the Murder Machine of the House of Torture, SHO, faces “Direct Drive” YOH in a grudge match to kick off the show. On the pre-show, a pinfall, submission or over the top rope elimination battle royale will come down to four, each of whom will face each other tomorrow night to determine the first Provisional KOPW Trophy holder of 2022.
+ Shingo Takagi (c) vs Kazuchika Okada (IWGP World Heavyweight Championship): as you might expect, this was a long match. The first half or so was uneventful, though sprinkled with some good moments, but the second half was all time great match of the year quality. Both guys were working a million miles an hour, and though one guy ended up with a funky eye (the second on the show) the pace never slowed, the strikes never stopped looking like kill shots, and every power move went off without a hitch
+ El Desperado (c) vs Hiromu Takahashi (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship): honestly, this was fantastic but far too short. One of Despy’s eyes was looking really bad in some post-match shots, so maybe that had something to do with it. In a way, I suppose it’s good that they left me wanting so much more, and by virtue of how the match went, I’m sure we’ll get it
+ Dangerous Tekkers (Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr.) (c) vs CHAOS (Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI) (IWPG World Tag Team Championships): it’s such a good comparison to make with the way WWE does so many rematches all the time, because this is a match we’ve seen many times before but it’s always good. It boggles the mind just how much the crowd loves YOSHI-HASHI, but all four guys are good enough to make this well worth watching
+ Katsuyori Shibata vs X (Catch Wrestling Rules Match): this was not as advertised (perhaps in a real-world sense?) and I was crying tears of joy for almost the entire thing. This was an phenomenal moment, and just as importantly a very good match as well. The surprise competitor was originally perhaps underwhelming, but it made perfect sense and it made for a fantastic fight
+ Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & BUSHI) vs United Empire (Will Ospreay, Great-O-Khan & Jeff Cobb): Cobb, O-Khan, BUSHI and Naito made this match fun to watch, but it was just another advertisement for the matches coming up tomorrow or later in the year. Ospreay’s character was interesting in this match, especially because it really did make sense for him to conserve his energy considering his match tomorrow. This was not great, but certainly good
– Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs EVIL (w/ Dick Togo) (NEVER Openweight Championship): basically everything I said about EVIL all throughout the G1 was the same here. If these two were just allowed to have a big boi match then it might have been good, but this was just garbage
– Hiroshi Tanahashi & The Mega Coaches (Rocky Romero & Ryusuke Taguchi) vs BULLET CLUB (KENTA, Taiji Ishimori & El Phantasmo): there was a lot about this that I really enjoyed, but the ending was so baffling that I can’t really recommend this. This was entirely to build up upcoming matches, but at least KENTA/Taguchi made me laugh
– SHO vs YOH: this was not a good match. SHO had a lot of momentum behind him after his initial turn on his partner, but since coming back to battle YOH, this was as standard and uninteresting as it gets. Even though the crowd still can’t cheer, there was almost no noise at all from stomps or claps here
– New Japan Ranbo: believe it or not, there were some real surprises here. Still, this was a garbage open rumble match by design and in execution. At least the four way tomorrow should be good
> there sure was a lot of gaijin talent missing from this show; both Guerrillas of Destiny, Jay White, Juice and Finlay, the Good Brothers and any of the NJPW Strong guys were all not here. Not to mention any other Impact, AEW or former ROH guys.
Should you watch this event: The opening portion of this show was not good at all. Once Shibata came out, the show picked up (depending on how you feel about EVIL’s Bullet Club shenanigans) but those final three moments were all well worth seeking out. But the highlight of the show was Katsuyori Shibata’s return to the ring, and I cannot wait to see what happens with him going forward.