Two nights ago, I attended New Japan’s King of Pro-Wrestling 2016 at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan. Based on my expectations going in, the show over-delivered and cured my post-G1 New Japan hangover.

What I Liked

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Title Match

I’m so glad New Japan went for a traditional two-on-two tag match here. The format allowed all four participants to showcase their strengths: the Bucks’ tag offense, Ricochet’s athleticism, and David Finlay’s fire. This was Finlay’ highest profile match since his graduation to the main roster. His ascent up the card was undoubtedly hastened by Matt Sydal’s absence, but to his credit, Finlay fit right in with the rest of the world-class talent in this match.

I’m hoping the two-on-two format is back to stay in the division, but I’m skeptical.

Katsuyori Shibata vs. Kyle O’Reilly

This was another Strong Style showcase from Shibata as he continues to build his resume as a serious main-event threat in New Japan. Following up his BOSJ epic against KUSHIDA, Kyle O’Reilly reminded fans in Tokyo that he is a student of the NJPW style. This match flowed very organically and chaotically. I loved the nuance of O’Reilly spitting out his mouthpiece at the finish, symbolically ending his struggle. It looks like these two will be busy for the foreseeable future, we may be getting two NEVER challengers and a new alliance.

Kenny Omega vs. Hirooki Goto

Many, including myself questioned why NJPW booked Goto/Kenny for tonight’s show. In hindsight, the reasons are clear. Kenny and Goto have exceptional chemistry together. Tonight’s match played to Goto’s strength’s perfectly, showcase the escalating, progressive finishers that make him a threat in any big match. Kenny and Goto delivered a memorable performance worthy of following up this year’s excellent G1. Kenny in particular emphatically proved why he’s deserving of headlining Wrestle Kingdom; showcasing why he’s perhaps the best big-match wrestler in the world.

Kazuchika Okada vs. Naomichi Marufuji

The main event felt like a virtual blend of each’s man’s big match style: it was paced like a classic NOAH match and it was full of the type of references and callbacks that make Okada such a good main-eventer. Okada’s reliance on the Rainmaker was a key component of the story. Unlike others such as Goto and Omega, Okada’s really only got one finishing technique..but he’s not afraid to borrow from others

Okada’s Emerald Flowsion served as both a next-level late match weapon, and stung more than any low-blow or spewed mist possibly could. The disgusted reaction in the crowd had me wondering how many former NOAH fans jumped ship (ark) for New Japan during NOAH’s decline. It’s only speculation, but this would also help explain the extra heat that Go Shiozaki gets on the cerulean blue mat. New Japan fans don’t really have a good reason to hate Shiozaki, but frustrated NOAH fans certainly do. I’m really hoping that NJPW and NOAH continue to build this inter-promotional tension on various levels of the card.

Other Observations

  • The line to get into the venue extended about three blocks from Sumo Hall. I haven’t seen this in any of my previous four trips to the venue. Perhaps there was a bigger walkup because of the national holiday.
  • If you’re ever buying tickets for a Sumo Hall show, I highly recommend the 2nd floor special seats (2F特別席).
  • The guy behind me exclaimed “It’s Ibushi” when Tiger Mask W went for his first Golden Triangle moonsault setup.
  • The NJPW/NOAH 8-man tag certainly would have benefitted from the inclusion of Katsuyori Shibata, but it did a good job of reminding New Japan fans that they should boo Go Shiozaki.
  • For those keeping score, Ryogoku is definitely still Tetsuya Naito’s house…even when he’s buried on the card. I also got completely worked by KUSHIDA’s shoulder selling on the floor and I loved it.
  • My friend asked me why all the fans were leaving during Guerillas of Destiny’s entrance.

Final Thoughts:

KOPW is probably my last NJPW show until Wrestle Kingdom, but I’m as excited as ever for biggest show of the year.