New Japan Pro Wrestling
Wrestle Kingdom 16 Night 1
January 4, 2021
Tokyo Dome
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Meet your reviewers

Paul Völsch: Fresh off reviewing NOAH The New Year, I’m excited to be here to review another big New Years puro show. I have fallen out of New Japan a bit recently as the back half of the year was not very good. But nothing better to get me back into one of my favorite promotions than Wrestle Kingdom.

Suit Williams: Fresh off of reviewing WWE Day 1, I’m excited to be here to review NJPW Day 4! New Japan’s Premium Live Event spectacular has landed at the world-famous Tokyo Dome! It may take a minute for the WWE verbiage to get out of my system. Local medical facility. Follow me on Twitter @SuitWilliams, and read check out The Brockumentary, my ongoing retrospective series on former 1/4 main eventer Brock Lesnar!

New Japan Rambo Match
CIMA, Toru Yano, Chase Owens & Minoru Suzuki win

Paul: Chase Owens isn’t the first thing I want to see after I wake up or the 100th. Unlike previous years everyone in the Rambo gets to use the entrance ramp instead of coming in through the dug out. Not much happening until Suzuki comes out and eliminates all the Young Lions.

Nevermind all of that here comes CIMA and we get a GLEAT mention on Wrestle Kingdom. He takes out Taka and Master Wato. He also eliminates Tenzan with some help from Kanemaru. Then Fale starts eliminating a ton of people before Tatsumi Fujinami comes out. Yano is the final entrant and the match finishes almost immediately once he’s in with the final four being CIMA, Yano, Owens and Suzuki. They will now move on to the KOPW Match tomorrow.

YOH def. SHO

Paul: These guys had great fiery openers against each others as Young Lions. This was the exact opposite of that. I am not a fan of the way this House of Torture version of SHO wrestles. He has adopted his bosses strategy of having boring control periods before cheating. It backfires here and YOH catches him for a banana peel win. Just a nothing match. It’s a shame that these guys had matches against each other way better than this when they were six months into the business. 

BULLET CLUB (El Phantasmo, KENTA & Taiji Ishimori) def. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Mega Coaches (Rocky Romero & Ryusuke Taguchi) by DQ

Paul: KENTA is coming off of an amazing performance at NOAH’s New Year show. Read all about it here. This match on the other hand felt like a match that should be on a Road To show and not Wrestle Kingdom. Just a set up for tomorrow with nothing of note happening, except for Tana attacking KENTA with a kendo stick for the DQ.

United Empire (Great-O-Khan, Jeff Cobb & Will Ospreay) def. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito)

Paul: Yet another Road To tag match. I guess this was better than the previous match but still nothing of note.

Suit: Here’s where I saunter into the review, much like Will Ospreay sauntering into the Dome, after letting Paul take care of the opening matches. My only thoughts on the opening bunch is that the two years of goofy KOPW nonsense would be worth it if it gets El Lindaman and T-Hawk into New Japan. This match was a fine preview tag of two big singles matches tomorrow night. Something to look out for is O-Khan working more of SANADA’s “pretty boy” style, so look out for some flashy tekkers from both of them tomorrow. Ospreay wins, I’ll allow you to guess who he pinned with the Hidden Blade. **1/2

Katsuyori Shibata def. Ren Narita

Paul: OK now it’s time to inject some juice into this. Here comes Ren Narita to save the show. I am tearing up a little as Shibata makes his entrance. He is in his normal trunks to show that this isn’t just an exhibition like his match with ZSJ. 

Shibata changes the rules before the match and makes it a regular rather than a catch wrestling match. Shibata is great for clap crowds because like NOAH wrestlers he just lays it in even more to make his chops and kicks louder. Big spot and a great show of trust for Narita. The match itself delivered and it’s clear that this is only the start for Shibata’s comeback. He immediately freshens up the top of the card in New Japan and has loads of exciting matchups.

Suit: The Wrestler is back. He spent nearly five years away from the ring, but Shibata never stopped fighting. He fought to regain his health after the subdural hematoma he suffered at Sakura Genesis 2017, wrestling one of the best matches of New Japan’s modern era. He couldn’t walk, his sight was affected, yet he never wavered in his will to return to the ring. He would make a return at the G1 Finals in Sumo Hall just a few months later, even taking a bump before an emotional crowd. He would pop up more as time went on, cornering Hiroshi Tanahashi at the G1 Finals the next year and introducing KENTA to New Japan at Dominion. Then came the tease. KENTA joined Bullet Club at the end of the 2019 G1, and before he could utter a word, Shibata came to the ring and he fought. In possibly one of the best angles in pro wrestling history, Shibata fought off Bullet Club as a raucous crowd chanted his name. Bullet Club would get the upper hand and leave him laying, but it put that taste in our mouths. We had him back, if only for a moment, and we wanted so much more. And after the surprise exhibition at this year’s G1 Finals with Zack Sabre, Shibata let us know that we would get it. It’s truly inspiring, but it shouldn’t have been surprising. He’s the Wrestler. Of course, he was going to fight.

Ren Narita as the opponent is a fine choice. It’s certainly not the flashiest pick, but he’s probably done grappling drills with Shibata for months at a time, and he’s a damn fine worker in his own right. Shibata decides that it’s nuts to the rules, we’re just gonna have a match here. This is just as big of a showcase for Narita as it is a comeback match for Shibata. He got his Narita Lock on Shibata and hung with him for as long as a possibly-graduated Young Lion could be expected to hang with a top guy. Shibata had every bit of aura and intensity he had before his injury. You could tell that his gas tank wasn’t completely full, but that will come with time. Shibata slapped the blood out of Narita’s nose and put the choke on before laying him down with the Penalty Kick. No rating for this one. While it was a good match, this wasn’t about match quality. It was about getting Katsuyori Shibata back, no restrictions.

NEVER Openweight Title Match
EVIL def. Tomohiro Ishii (c)

Paul: Took a shower during intermission and put on my Ishii shirt. Now I’m ready to enjoy this nice clean match that will have no shenanigans at all.

Well, that didn’t take long to go bad. This is just like every boring overly long EVIL singles match that he’s had since he turned heel. An absurd amount of run ins and attempts to create “heat”. This sucks. It’s an impressive feat to make a Tomohiro Ishii singles match at Wrestle Kingdom bad but somehow EVIL found a way. Negative *****

Suit: Since I probably won’t say much nice about EVIL in the meat of this review, I will say his Vader-esque entrance gear looks cool. I did the Wordle puzzle of the day while waiting for the House of Torture siege to commence. I got it in three tries. Chris Charlton sums it up pretty clearly, saying that the House of Torture interference is “like a goddamn clown car.” YOH comes out to run off SHO and Yujiro, meanwhile, I just want them all to go. Kevin Kelly says that every night on the Road To Tokyo Dome tour ended with EVIL laying out Ishii with a belt shot. So I, an experienced wrestling fan, expected this to end with Ishii ducking the belt shot and overcoming the interference to triumph over the villains. Nope. But then EVIL picked up Ishii’s limp body to arrogantly hit his finishing move. So I, an experienced wrestling fan, expected Ishii to fight his way out and make EVIL pay for his arrogance. Nope. Then EVIL went for the pin. So I, an experienced wrestling fan, expected Ishii to kick out and show that fighting spirit that had defined Tomohiro Ishii throughout New Japan’s glory period. Nah, let’s get that heat! Pro wrestling is fundamentally broken when a crowd can’t make noise, but to specifically emphasize HEAT when a crowd literally cannot give you said HEAT is especially stupid. House of Torture, and EVIL in particular, will represent an era of New Japan that fans will be glad to leave in the past when it’s over. I couldn’t think of a better encapsulation of how this push and this unit feels than this dreadfully trite waste of my time. *

IWGP Tag Team Title Match
CHAOS (Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI) def. Dangerous Tekkers (Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr.) (c)

Paul: This was a match of two halves ad the first part was just somewhat trite. Not much of note happening and it doesn’t help that I still had a spur taste in my mouth from the previous match.

The second half was great though as both teams dialed up the intensity. I was surprised how dominant the CHAOS team was down the stretch. New Japan has done a nice job elevating YOSHI-HASHI as he’s presented as someone that can hang with guys like Tekkers. Nice effort in this match overall but the boring first half is holding it back.

Suit: I like what they’ve been doing with YOSHI-HASHI during the pandemic. He was always a perennial lower-card guy, but the pandemic restrictions meant that a lot of the people above him couldn’t get to Japan, so they had to put him in more meaningful matches. So instead of lazily popping him into important matches, they made it a long-term story of him earning respect. He won the first championship of his twelve-year career, the NEVER Six-Man Titles, and earned the respect of his unit-mates. Despite where the title landed on the totem pole, he defended that title with his life before House of Torture stole it away. Now, he stands with his long-time partner Hirooki Goto, no longer another pin-eater, now a legitimate threat to gold. They came out and survived the onslaught of offense that Dangerous Tekkers gave them before hitting both men with their new tag finisher to win the titles. After the match Taichi, who had spent so long dismissing YOSHI-HASHI as a boring waste of space, gave him the respect that he has earned. It’s not a marquee storyline, and I’m not hyping it as a big deal, but it is a neat way of Gedo making the most of his circumstances to make a meaningful team in their heavyweight tag division. ***

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title Match
El Desperado (c) def. Hiromu Takahashi

Paul: This got off to a hot start, which is a great change of pace from the rest of the show. They actually kept this pace up for the rest of the match as well. With a surprising result as well as Hiromu was the heavy favorite going into this match.

This is a major elevation for Despy as he is now the guy in the junior division. Previously it just felt like he’s the guy keeping the belt warm while Hiromu recovers. But now he’s overcome the man around whom the junior division has built for years. It was Hiromus world and the rest of the juniors just lived in it. Now it’s Despy’s world. I am excited to see where both men go from here. I could very easily see Hiromu move up to Heavyweight going forward.

Suit: These two went to a 30-minute time limit draw in the Best of Super Juniors, a tournament that saw both men log over three-and-a-half HOURS of ring time. They went right back to work here, wasting no time laying into each other. Hiromu had Desperado laid out with a sunset-flip powerbomb within five minutes. These were two rivals who knew each other well, leaving everything they had in the ring, knowing that one slip-up would give their opponent the advantage that couldn’t be given back. The commentators talked about how Desperado knew this match wasn’t in the January 4th semi-main event spot because of him, it was because of Hiromu and his star power. He wrestled like he needed to prove that he was now the premier junior heavyweight, that the junior division wasn’t just Hiromu and everyone else. And he did it emphatically, pinning Hiromu after two Pinche Locos after only 16:08. It was reminiscent of the KUSHIDA/Omega title match from Wrestle Kingdom 10. This wasn’t the epic battle of times past that these two were certainly capable of delivering. This felt like the cementing of Desperado as the new face of the division. Many people have wanted Hiromu elevated to the heavyweight division. If it is, the title and the division is in very good hands. ***3/4

IWGP World Heavyweight Title Match
Kazuchika Okada def. Shingo Takagi (c)

Paul: Kazuchika Okada is back where he belongs. The Rainmaker is back on top as the ace of New Japan. A lot of people have kept the throne warm for a bit but none can fill it as he can.

Okada came out with new Antonio Inoki-inspired gear, which is appropriate given that we are close to the 50 year anniversary of the company. This whole match had a proper big fight feel and was a well-deserving Tokyo Dome main event. Shingo is a guy that keeps exceeding everyone’s expectations and is now a proper top guy in New Japan. A promotion that very rarely gives top spots to guys that did not come out of their dojo.

The match itself was amazing. Okada and Shingo went all out and delivered at the highest possible level. This match basically breezed by and these two have great chemistry. Given that Shingo hasn’t been around in New Japan for that long they have built quite the rapport with each other and this match was filled with callbacks to their previous matches.

The match went to another gear when Shingo mocked Okada by doing his rainmaker pose and Okada snapped and started to beat the shit out of Shingo. From there the match never let up. They did a disgusting-looking DVD onto the ramp that looked like it hurt. Shingo caught Okada with a massive pumping bomber right to the face and Okada’s cheek started swelling up. Given what just happened with Jake Lee in All Japan, this is hopefully not a serious issue but we will know more tomorrow. I bit on a couple of nearfalls as it seemed Shingo might be able to win this. But ultimately it was Kazuchika Okada who was standing tall after a thunderous rainmaker.

After the match, Ospreay came out and cut a meandering promo to hype the match tomorrow. Okada then gave the closing remarks and gave final honors to the old IWGP Heavyweight belt. I was a big fan of that belt and this was the proper way to send it off. If Okada’s eye injury doesn’t get worse he should have another tremendous match with Ospreay tomorrow and I’m looking forward to finding out which match is better. ****1/2

Suit: When Shingo Takagi made his New Japan debut at King of Pro Wrestling 2018, I along with many others wondered just how high his ceiling reached. Yes, Shingo is an all-time great pro wrestler with the charisma to be a New Japan main eventer. However, he was on the other side of 35. He didn’t train in the New Japan dojo, and he wasn’t even the top junior heavyweight in his own unit. There was no visible path to him entering that main event scene, other than as an Ishii-type challenger of the month. I believed that would fill that Ishii role, peaking as the NEVER or Intercontinental Champion. Now, on January 4th, 2022, he walked to the ring as the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion. He had beaten pillars of the promotion in Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi, as well as the face of this new era in EVIL, to keep that title around his waist. He earned the right to walk that ramp as the representation of the best of New Japan Pro Wrestling.

But there was only one outcome here. This wasn’t the cocky young kid coming in to take the top spot, this is the Rainmaker. This is the man. Maybe you can shock him on short notice at Dominion. Maybe you can catch one off of him in the G1. But the January 4 main event belongs to him now. He came out in an Inoki-style robe and scarf with New Japan events listed in kanji throughout. This was as excellent of a Wrestle Kingdom main event as you could ask for, with two all-time greats doing the work that is expected of them. Shingo kept a cool head, never panicking when Okada caught him in the Money Clip that choked him out in the 2020 G1. He even got Okada to lose his cool at one point, heating him up to the point of shoving the referee away. Okada survived Shingo’s offense, which included a Pumping Bomber directly to his face. Shingo left nothing to chance, going for a Stay Dream that helped him beat Okada in the 2021 New Japan Cup. But Okada turned it into a tornado DDT off of the top that signaled the beginning of the end for Shingo. He would fire up once more, but a Landslide-style Tombstone led to a Rainmaker that would score the fall and start Okada’s first reign as IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. He finally embraced the new title after bowing to the 4th Generation Title that defined his rise to the top of the wrestling world. There are faults with New Japan as tonight made crystal clear, but as long as talent like Shingo and Okada are at the top of these cards, New Japan is always gonna have a high ranking in the pro wrestling world. ****1/2

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