New Japan Pro Wrestling
Wrestle Kingdom 16 in Yokohama Arena
January 8, 2022
Yokohama Arena
Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan

Watch: Abema

Meet our Reviews:

J Michael: J. Michael has one thing to say: Sirium XM, get fucked. J. Michael shares a birthday w/ David Bowie (and Graham Chapman. And Elvis, he supposes, but he’s with Chuck D on that one. Motherfuck Elvis). J. Michael is really excited about the David Bowie channel popping up, but not too pleased that they keep stressing how it is a “limited engagement” channel. Why? Is it that unfeasible to have a permanent Bowie channel? There’s a dedicated Bruce Springsteen channel; Bowie as the Thin White Duke alone surpasses a Bruce Springsteen channel. What are we doing here? If you’re interested in retweets about Despy, cute animals (ie, red pandas, bat-eared foxes, DOUKI, etc.), Japanese indie pop, fencing (the sport), verismo opera, and manga about radiologists, by all means look @ryugu_jo.

Neil: Neil hasn’t written about wrestling in a while and has just been enjoying watching it instead.  These periods never last too long, so you’ll have to excuse him if his House of Torture takes zip away like an overwound clockwork car.  Much of this enjoyment has come from the hard-hitting action of Pro Wrestling NOAH and he is on the precipice of switching allegiances.  For complimentary hot takes follow @chubby_cthulhu

Kosei Fujita vs. Yasutaka Yano – TIME LIMIT DRAW

J Michael: These are two promotions top heavy with older wrestlers, which just amplifies how very young Fujita and Yano are: 19 and 21, respectively. 

Yano debuted about 14 months ago, and in that time he’s had 34 singles matches. He just won his very first singles match on 4 January

 Fujita is only 4 months into his public career, and he certainly shot out a cannon in his first several showcases against Ryohei Oiwa, but things have leveled out as the hair has grown out for this crop of YL’s. You hear a lot of praise for Nakashima. Oiwa got a singles match against IWGP World Heavyweight champion Shingo Takagi during World Tag League. And yet, only one of the three is booked on this card.

This one was a showcase of the dojo system and its superiority over the American system of “wrestle every Saturday, check for Canyon Ceman email every Sunday,” and the British system of, uh… something for lawyers to untangle. The work was fundamentally crisp and propelled by ardent, conflagrant intensity. They examined distance. There was a significant amount of time spent on establishing leverage. 

Those familiar with the New Japan Young Lion match found much comfort, but also some quirks. The match generally followed the formula you see anywhere: one guy gets an arm, the other gets a leg. Yano controlled Fujita’s arm the first half, peaking with a kimura I thought was technically sound but had room for more enthusiasm.

Fujita was all enthusiasm. The story of the second half here was that Yano’s experience could not thwart the persistent dropkick of Fujita. That was Fujita’s answer, and he even though Fujita’s toolbox might be limited in scope compared to Yano, Fujita was more confidently decisive and that was the difference. That is why Fujita ended up with the young boy visual win at the bell. ***1/2

Neil: I love a bit of grappling in my wrestling, but it is so often a sloppy gentle embrace. That certainly wasn’t the case here, as the two youngest wrestlers on each roster scraped and clawed to dominate their opponent.  A punctuated slap, a wrenched arm and ground and pound set a brilliant tone for the show.  It was Yano that seemed to have the upper hand, as he played Fujita like a banjo.  

As Fujita twisted Yano into the Boston Crab, his big boots perfectly summarised this match.  It was a struggle, with two young men dancing with the pressure of their position and their insecurities.  I felt the emotion of young men desperate for the capital a win would give them with their respective roster and it spoke to those memories we all have of the pressures of youth.  There was desperation in every movement, and it was impossible to remain neutral.

Unfortunately, they called the draw before it even happened.  The commentary really highlighted the time limit and it was signposted by the struggling submissions.  While this hurt the match slightly, it couldn’t throw water on that tremendous fire.  ***½

Hiroyoshi Tenzan & TenKoji (Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima) def. Funky Express (Akitoshi Saito, King Tany, & Mohammed Yone)

J Michael: A couple things were confirmed with this match:

  1. The crowd is actively engaged in this one. I know it’s a fool’s errand to try and decipher clap crowds (even though I’ve been doing it semi-professionally now for about 115-16 months and roughly 200,000 words). But I’ve picked up a sense for these things, and there absolutely is a difference, an intrinsic feeling that separates an engaged clap crowd and a detached one. This crowd feels kinetic and galvanized. It already has exceeded the energy and vitality of the Wrestle Kingdom crowds.
  2. There is going to be a jarring silence for every entrance and every post-match period on the English feed. Thus, we get to hear Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton is some auditory void. This also allows us to hear what sounds like someone either washing the dishes or fixing a metal screen door in the background of one of their feeds.

I was most looking forward to some kind of sequence between Yone and Nagata stiffing the fuck out of each other followed by manly screaming of manly spirit. This match did not disappoint on that front; Yone’s forearms have some real weight behind them, they just have that grotesque thudding sound to them.

Speaking of the grotesque, Tenzan cannot run anymore. He was somehow the least mobile person in this match. At one point he charged into the corner and it was really unfortunate. He moves like a sea bird hopping around a shore, like his legs bypass his hips and connect straight to his ribcage. It’s why they couldn’t truly take the Mongolian chops from him; the guy is giving you everything he has left, now’s not the time to start forcing him to rethink the playbook.

Otherwise, though, the closing stretch was really well done. This was exactly what it needed to be, and smartly carried out, as you’d expect. ***1/2

Neil: A look can tell us more than a thousand promos, and the twisted countenance of Nagata spoke volumes.  There’s something brilliant about old men fighting, and as Nagata and Saito grabbed each other’s hair, slapping each other silly, I was captivated.  It felt like the embodiment of the kindergarten conversation about whose dad could batter all the other dads.  

Yone tried to be silly, but Kojima, the pec flexing grump, wouldn’t let him.  Maybach may have had a little dance, but this was mostly red hot.  A forearm exchange between Nagata and Yone was much more brutal than it needed to be, and hinted at a genuine company pride.  Shows like this, when presented well, flirt with breaking that kayfabed fourth wall, and every forearm thud had a seasoning of reality.

The Mayback/Kojima battle at the end was pure professional wrestling.  Yes, the joints might be rubbing together a little bit, but it was pride that told the story.  The match was book ended by another brilliant stare down between Nagata and Saito, and reminded me where pro wrestling heat really comes from. ***1/4

CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto, and YOSHI-HASHI) & 1 or 8 (Master Wato and Ryusuke Taguchi) DEF.  Kinya Okada, Yoshiki Inamura, Daiki Inaba, Hajime Ohara, and Daisuke Harada

J Michael: The opening video package for this was tremendous and exhilarating, running through decades worth of sweaty people slapping each other, a sort of live action Fist of the North Star, which I suppose is the easiest way to describe Puro.

And then…

The feed came back for Imamura vs. Ishii, which is pretty much all we needed to see here anyway. I’d be worried if I was Ishii, considering that Inamura’s big moment this week was his brazen instigation and remonstrance of KENTA on New Year’s Day, and we saw how that ended up for Fang Revived

There were excellent opening match dynamics on display here. Because the match was filled to the brim with Juniors, we were presented with a nice sequence of dives, which threatened to have a conclusive pigpile dive, one that inexplicably didn’t culminate in anything as spectacular as the build-up suggested.

The interplay between Okada and YOSHI-HASHI was wonderful. Just two earnest, sincere undercard guys, imbued with such vehement ferocity. Two guys that get over by such a powerful expression of their ideals, passions, and drive. Compare this to the fuckface in the next match, the one without the hat.

Unfortunately, as is the case in these types of cards, and the novelty of it, we got an abbreviated exchange between those two, but it was a tremendous sequence for the time and context. ***1/2

Neil: In the end, the clap crowds won.  We had to listen to most of this and imagine what the crowd were clapping for due to a power cut.

We came back online to see Inamura smashing Ishii in the chest, which probably produced enough kinetic energy to bring us back online.  Inamura was brilliant against KENTA on January 1st and he was just as brilliant against Ishii here.  Seeing him battle Ishii highlighted just how great he is at the gradual sell, convincing us that he’s powering through the pain but may collapse at any moment.

The passion continued as everyone went flying through the air, and even Master Wato managed to avoid giving the impression your mum made you take him along.

YOSHI-HASHI tapped out Okada, and I feel like I would have enjoyed this had the power not been cut out. NR

SHO def. Atsushi Kotoge

J Michael: Sho Tanaka has been a professional wrestler for over nine years, having worked his way through the New Japan dojo system, an excursion in Mexico, and a half-decade of ringwork with the best wrestlers of this, or any, generation, both foreign and domestic.

In 2022, his tenth year in wrestling, in this incarnation, is less subtle, more inherently corrosive to suspension of disbelief, anathema to the entire enterprise of professional wrestling and the mechanics that make it work, than some of these Paint Splatter NXT kids that have something like 15 matches under their belt.

I’d rather watch EVIL. I’d rather watch someone edit SHO’s wikipedia page in real time. At one point, SHO started snickering like a real life anthropomorphic dog in Looney Tunes. I’d rather watch BUSHI sleepwalk his way through a 8 man tag. I’d rather watch that poor girl on Early 90’s TLC Aesthetic NXT fuck up a basic elbowdrop. I’d rather see the twitter discourse after the poor girl fucks up an elbowdrop.

This was adequately worked but, as one might expect in these sort of dual-branded shows based upon a politically hesitant alliance, not particularly ambitious. It was a high floor of work but we’ve seen better work this week, at least in Kotoge’s case. **1/2

Neil: SHO embarrassed himself this week.  I understand that he is following Togo’s whims, but the fact remains that he told a clap crowd to shush while he cheated.  House Of Torture, in their own lane, are unembarassable.  Unfortunately for SHO, they aren’t in their own lane here.  They are representing something bigger than themselves and there was a good chance the wannabe goth would cringe the bed.

As SHO slid out of the ring to be chased by Kotoge, it really made me think about my own relationship with New Japan.  New Japan was, traditionally, my antidote.  It was well booked, decisive and rewarding.  Obviously, I didn’t agree with every booking decision but I enjoyed thinking about them all.  I sought a presentation that was rooted in reality and nobody did that on a bigger scale than New Japan.

Now, I’m watching SHO do a fake laugh and wondering if he’s hiding a wrench in his duds.  As SHO gurned his way around the ring like a Hacienda casualty, it felt like a lament for the New Japan that I once loved.  I still gave 5 stars to the Okada/Ospreay match, but SHO really represents New Japan’s transition into something I enjoy in doses rather than a company I love.

Ironically, it is NOAH that has taken that place for me.  They hit hard, talk shit and deliver what New Japan used to.  I wondered if this feeling had the sense of the divorcee with the hot new girlfriend, but then SHO got his wrench out and I realised I was right to keep this company at arms length.  

Kevin Kelly said SHO’s behaviour was embarrassing for New Japan, and there are many layers to that truth.  *3/4

Stinger (HAYATA & Seiki Yoshioka) def. BULLET CLUB (Taiji Ishimori & Gedo)

J Michael:  If there’s one match where I wish I could be a fly on the wall for the negotiations, it’s this one. Questions I’d like answered:

  1. Who did NOAH initially put in this match to break Ishimori’s leg?
  2. At what point did Gedo insert himself in there as a political shield?
  3. At what point was Jado originally in this match, and what did he have to do to get himself the fuck out of doing anything his body can’t handle anymore, such as, I dunno… lateral movement?
  4. Who had the genius idea to put the two most sculpted Junior heavyweight bodies in opposition?

Ishimori’s hair extensions make me almost want the NOAH guys to pin him down, grab some bolt cutter from under the ring, and lop off a couple of Ishimori’s thumbs.

But this was the one match-up I was most excited to see: Ishimori and Yoshioka. Ishimori has been the best in-ring junior heavyweight in New Japan for well over a year now. The myth of Ishimori being disinterested or unambitious is purely that: mythical, totally divorced from reality or evidence. 

The speed of these guys, and they aren’t even super young. Ishimori is pushing 40 and Yoshioka is in his mid-30’s. Yoshioka’s stuff is so crisp. He does really well when a match has structure and he’s constantly attempting to shatter that structure. Of all the potential NOAH-NJPW match-ups, Ishimori vs. Yoshioka is right at the top of the list.

Of course, we couldn’t let that supersonic action continue too long without getting some heat, and so all that momentum was brought to a sudden and tawdry end with Gedo nonsense belt-whipping drivel. 

We’re seeing an early trend where the NOAH guys are trying to work and the New Japan guys are trying to transfer us from Yokohama Arena to the Mid-South Coliseum. Quite honestly, I’m reminded enough of deeply entrenched Southern sentiments these days outside of wrestling. 

Of course, that should probably be expected. There’s no concept of anything further than this card, and any future plans are assuredly precarious enough to fall apart in a literal instant. Also considering NOAH’s very justified reticence to commit to anything related to New Japan and their guardedness in dealing with them, falling back upon the comfort of traditional match dynamics is probably the best avenue.

This one ended with a HAYATA-Gedo sequence that was much better than one would have expected. I mean, these two were, expectedly, an anchor upon the athletic specimens that they teamed up with here, but the closing stretch was well executed. Good on the pencil taking the fall. ***

Neil: As great as Ishimori is, I always feel like he’s missing something.  I thought perhaps the prefabbed story of facing his old promotion would help, and as Yoshioka sprinted around him at lightning speed I allowed myself to feel hope.  Unfortunately, that hope was dissipated in a crack of Gedo’s belt.

The lower rungs of the Bullet Club are farts at a funeral.  Their shit nullifies everything around them.  Ishimori can dance around the ropes at unbelievable speeds, but Gedo cancels any excitement with his outdated cheating.

It’s a bizarre anathema that one of the greatest bookers of all time is able to be a part of this.  It’s a complete misunderstanding of what HEAT is.  When the wonderfully grimy HAYATA took control, I wasn’t glad that the heel was getting their comeuppance, I was relieved that I would get to watch a bit of wrestling.

It’s impossible to analyse clap crowds, but listen to the noise they made in the opener and then listen to this.  The difference is amazing.  The matches had heat based purely on the cross promotional rivalry, and anything else was extraneous nonsense.  **

Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & DOUKI ) def. Los Perros del Mal de Japón (YO-HEY & Nosawa Rongai)

J Michael: It’s unfortunate that the units don’t align to offer us a champion + booker vs. champion + booker match, although unit symmetry didn’t stop them from teaming Marufuji and Ogawa further up the card.

Despy merch count: 7 towels, one hoodie, one long-sleeved shirt, 1 mask.

One of the drawbacks of these matches playing it safe and following traditional beats and all that is that the wrestlers also have to fall back into traditional roles. That inhibits the main interest in this match, which is the opportunity to see a fuckface heel unit like PDM confronted by a tweener group willing to engage in grime to combat them. 

In the most fundamental ways, that notion is why SZG have become so popular, and why their Junior Heavyweight champion is one of the top merch sellers in the company. They will not only cheat, they’ll beat the heels to the punch on it.

And so, under these conventional roles, we got a sort of defanged Desperado. He had presence, and he got the pin on the other pencil, but the El Desperado that turned the corner and ascended to the top of the New Japan junior division was largely relegated to the post-match jawjacking with YO-HEY. 

Unfortunately, that accounts for the bulk of their interactions, which really is a shame because they both exude an insouciant, disdainful belligerence that would have been a nice bit of sinews and armature from which this match could have benefitted.

On the other hand, the interactions between DOUKI and YO-HEY were indeed all-capitals, some great catch-as-catch-can back-and-forth near the beginning and the typical injections of energy both wrestlers infuse into a match. It generally settled into a basic control and hot tag kind of match. The payoff was Rongai taking Pinche Loco in an odd way, one of the worst takes of the move. ***1/4

Neil: Yo-Hey and Desperado screaming at each other was a wonderful amuse-bouche to the previous rubbish, and it seemed the crowd agreed.  There was a lot of grime in this match and Desperado constantly rising to the bait from the cocky YO-HEY and Rongai and raising the speed of the match  was what this show needed.

I’m not exactly a Rongai fan, but there was a sense of competence from this match that was missing from the previous tag.  Yes, there was cheating, but there was also the quick satisfaction from Desperado’s revenge and excellent action born from YO-HEY’s athleticism.  

El Desperado got the pin, and delivered on the promise that shows like this infer.  This was a fun match. ***

Sugiura-gun (Takashi Sugiura, Kazushi Sakuraba, & Toru Yano) def. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, & Taka Michinokou)

J Michael: For those already deflated by the pandemic-era New Japan-ness of the show thus far, Toru Yano being X certainly exacerbated their discontent. It’s a stark reminder that 2022 is going to be even worse than 2021, but also a notation that this is indeed a New Japan show.

The most memorable aspects of this one was when everyone just laid out, or flat out disappeared, and allowed Sugiura and Suzuki to take center stage and pummel the fuck out of each other. Thankfully, that happened a few times, and each one was successively greater than the previous.

And it had to be, because there wasn’t much else going on here, or even attempted. Poor Taichi was completely orphaned in this one, stuck with either Sakuraba (not a propitious match-up) or Yano (permeating with the uninspiring). 

Taka and Sugiura had a nice sequence to end it, which is a testament to their working abilities, because everyone knew goddamn well once it came down to these two that Taka was taking an Olympic slam and counting the lights. ***1/2

Neil: Can you think of an X that would have been worse than Toru Yano?  At least House Of Torture can wrestle if they choose to.  It seems like Yano’s true skill doesn’t lie in wrestling, but convincing people his tired routine has any value whatsoever.  We didn’t need a rehash of a past rivalry barely remembered when we had Suzuki and Sugiura to fill that role.

This match felt like a constant consolation prize.  We should have had KENTA, but we got Yano.  We would have flashes of Suzuki and Sugiura smashing forearms into each other, but it would return to Yano vs Suzuki.

When Sugiura and Suzuki were in the ring together it was visceral, punctuated by the memories of an old feud.  Suzuki’s pauses were perfect, and it elevated the violence excellently.

Sugiura defiantly pinned the returned TAKA, and I found myself wanting a little bit more from this. **3/4

Go Shiozaki & Masa Kitamiya def. BULLET CLUB (EVIL & Dick Togo) 

J Michael: This is really unfortunate. Shiozaki being caught up in the EVIL Nonsense Fuck-net is one thing; yes, he IS Noah and all that, but he’s just returned and they’re doing a bit of a losing streak with him at the moment. 

Kitamiya, though, is finally getting something after something like six months in public storage after that phenomenal cage match with Nakajima. This is the next challenger for Nakajima’s GHC title, and he’s caught up in this rancid sludge. 

This is the perfect opportunity for a company to get one over on New Japan for a change; I hope Kitamiya just no-sells this fuckery to drive home the point of how unimpressed NOAH is with this putrid balderdash.

That didn’t happen. What did happen was a prolonged exhibition in dichotomy. On one hand, you were presented with someone that looked like an outright, consummate star in Go Shiozaki. Contrast that with EVIL, who most definitely did not. It came across very clearly: an upper mid-carder elevated to face the odd-man out of the main event scene.

This was another traditional tag match with stock tag team dynamics. For what it’s worth, even though the heat was frustrating in this one, and even though they just couldn’t help themselves to fit a ref bump in there, and even though they couldn’t help but run through all the EVIL hits (removing the pad at the last second, etc., which, like the baseball swing chair nonsense, is stuff he does every match that I can’t remember ever getting a pop), they got their comeuppance. Inevitably they do, even if you have to endure a lot to get there.

Kitamiya’s hot tag was, in the end, a panacea to all this hokum. He needed to come across well, and he did: fiery, powerful, mobile and athletic for a powerhouse, easy to root for… all of it. If this show is partially a NOAH advertisement on New Japan’s watch, they managed to portray their next big GHC World title challenger exquisitely. ***

Neil: I don’t know Go Shiozaki, but I wonder if he was more upset to lose to Nakajima or end up with EVIL and Dick Togo for this show.  It does feel like a booking misstep, considering that Shiozaki is finally believable in his “I am NOAH” assertion.

The juxtaposition between Go and EVIL was embarrassing for the House of Torture loons.  EVIL has always danced with cringe, but when his ridiculous shoulder pads were put next to the quiet, dignified stoicism of Shiozaki, my eyes started to roll into the back of my head.

As with the earlier matches, I couldn’t enjoy the simple pleasure of Go slapping the shit out of EVIL because the stench of Togo lingers outside the ring.  When the turnbuckle pad was ripped away, so was my interest.

I understand that Kevin Kelly is a company man and is doing what he is told, but the commentary really jumped the shark here.  EVIL’s violence outside the ring led to screams about the Japanese Red Cross and the ridiculousness was amplified beyond any possibility of respect.  Far too often, Charlton and Kelly attempted to finagle a kayfabed explanation of what they saw and ended up pointing out just how silly a lot of New Japan is at the moment.

Kitamiya battering Togo was entertaining, however, and Shiozaki has perfected the revenge routine that all the best wrestlers find late in their careers.  This was obviously ruined by a House of Torture run in, and it was surmised by Chris Charlton perfectly – “Who does this benefit?  Certainly not people who bought the pay-per-view.”

Yep. **

Naomichi Marufuji & Yoshinari Ogawa def. Suzuki-gun ( Zack Sabre Jr &Yoshinobu Kanemaru)

J Michael: There was a lot of history here, and although I agree with Neil a bit about commentary overextending a bit much at times, they did an immaculate job in this one laying out and exploiting the history between the competitors here. The match was clearly structured around that contextual heft.

This was our first, and ultimately, only proper limb match, which was probably necessary because I’m not sure what this match serves in this spot except as a buffer before the main events.

There was a fun matrix of overlapping interplay here, as Ogawa is senior to everyone, while Kanemaru is senior to Marufuji, senior to Zack, who circles back around to being the junior to Ogawa. The SZG boys, however, are both defined by the peremptory contempt they project towards their opponents, whereas there is a forthright truculence to both Marufuji and Ogawa that was a nice complement.

There was a fun hot tag to Ogawa after a lot of limb work on Marufuji’s leg by both SZG grapplers, but there was also a fairly superfluous ref bump. If the point was to clear the way for Kanemaru’s whiskey spot, I’m confused. We’ve seen him do that spot numerous times without a ref bump. Sometimes he doesn’t even bother with a distracted ref set-up, so why a ref bump here when there’s already the chance for ref bump fatigue from the EVIL/Togo bollocks that directly preceded this?

Either way, Marufuji thwarts Kanemaru’s whiskey with a trademark hook kick, followed by some brutal-sounding set knee strikes. A sharp tag all around by some of the most sagacious wrestlers around, four guys capable of making anything work, no matter the situation. ***1/2

Neil: I voted in the recent Wrestling Omakase awards, and I voted for Zack Sabre Jr as my most outstanding wrestler.  He is innovative, exciting and incredibly real.  Pairing him against Ogawa was excellent, as few can exude the angry journeyman as well as him.  The commentary, for all their faults tonight, really made the relationship clear and it added a great wrinkle to the match.  ZSJ’s  joy and passion for wrestling was obvious, and their opening exchange was great.

Kanemaru is an interesting character here, because the disloyal little heel has maneuvered his way around the companies and come up Milhouse.  This wasn’t lost on Marufuji, and the patronising finger gestures said it all.  

Of course, Suzuki-gun wrestled like wolves and it wasn’t long before ZSJ and Kanemaru were attempting conscious amputation on Maru’s leg.  It signaled the beginning of a great match, with Ogawa excelling in the role of experienced wrestler reminding the younger generation why he is who he is.  

Marufuji battering Kanemaru was as satisfying as anything on the show.  The knee to the head was a horrible thud, and the excellent punctuation was ZSJ and Ogawa having a faceoff after the pin. ***1/2

Los Ingobernables de Japón (Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi, Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA, & BUSHI) def. Kongo (Kenoh, Katsuhiko Nakajima, Manabu Soya, Tadasuke, & Aleja)

J Michael: Quite simply, the coolness factor is off the charts with Kongo, even if the majority of their unit is decidedly uncool. The instigator for all of this is Kenoh, and he was the catalytic factor that brought this show up to the levels we had hoped it would achieve. 

There’s something special, something piercing about the tension produced when two powerful units square off in a well-built rivalry. That element was in force for the pre-match confrontation and cross-ring stare-down. Consequently, there was an audible release from the crowd when this culminated in the surprise initial pairing of Nakajima and Naito.

This was the first time all night that there was a spark, a pervasive disquiet and percolating sense of battle, of aggravation and bellicose animosity. 

Kongo, and especially Kenoh, did not give a fuck for propriety. When Naito did his pose to Nakajima, and Nakajima obliged with a mocking counter-pose, Kenoh simply disregarded the entire jocular premise of the exchange and burst into the ring to kick Naito’s skull concave.  This was a running theme of that match, and the post-match: Kenoh easily goaded by LIJ, but also Kenoh have some element of agency, willfully charging headfirst into these labors, not content to simply stew and gesticulate on the sidelines. He was going to meet any and every challenge, with brazen gall.

Nakajima served as a sort of exclamation point to his stablemates work, still projecting a cool, menacing detachment, while also nonchalantly delivering kicks that sounded different than anything else all night, detonating with mind-blowing sonic bursts. 

There was a resolution in the work from all ten men that carried through and reached the crowd. SANADA and Soya had a tremendous exchange, following a blistering SANADA hot tag. BUSHI and Aleja worked swiftly and punctuated the action with their flashiness. Hiromu was largely absent from this one, but he idiosyncratically managed to inject his unpredictability by capriciously attacking Haoh out of nowhere at one point.

But it really all comes back to the unit leaders, Naito and Kenoh. Their exchanges felt different from everyone else’s. It felt main event. It felt like the one thing on the show with deliberate build. It felt like the one thing on the show that could run this building again and sell it out. It felt like the one thing on the show that could outsell this event. 

Great closing stretch w/ Shingo paying off the Tadasuke stuff he spoke of in his post-match backstage comment on 5 Jan. This was followed by a tremendous post-match in which Nakajima belittled Nakajima with the GHC World title, Kenoh repeatedly slapped Naito to zero effect or sell, and then Kenoh provoking a full faction brawl by charging the entirety of LIJ to get at Naito (causing SANADA to attack him, causing Soya to attack SANADA, causing BUSHI and Aleja to scuffle… just great stuff).  ****1/2

Neil: Kongo made LiJ look like pound shop antiheroes with their determined march to the ring.   They made LiJ’s entrance feel tired and drawn out.  Kenoh’s promo at Wrestle Kingdom was pro-wrestling distilled, and I found myself desperately hoping his promises to kick ass were embraced in the ether and we were about to see a violent strike fest.  The hand on his shoulder stopping him from storming LiJ told me that it was.  This was a story told through a look, an eye roll or a disparaging  look.

The crowd broke the noise rules when Nakajima and Naito started the match, and I completely joined them.  This Nakajima is very different from the Nakajima of old, and I am scratching to see him test his mettle against the true stars of New Japan once more.  As if to emphasize this, we were treated to some lovely shots of Nakajima dominating Naito once this descended into chaos.  Naito keeping his t-shirt is often a declaration of effort levels, but here it was a clear, intended insult.  Subtle insults of men like Kenoh and Nakajima is all the build we need.

Lots of the early interactions were based around BUSHI or Aleja, keeping the key characters apart to let our mouths water.  The SANADA and Soya battle was inevitable but no less exciting for it, and it seemed to motivate SANADA in a way we haven’t seen for a long time.  Even the bizarre Greco-Roman armpit lock he calls the Dragon Sleeper was given a commitment that is often missing.

The page turned and we got Kenoh’s closed fist mauling of Naito.  A stomp from Hiromu couldn’t interrupt Kenoh’s passionate violence and the strikes seemed to become more and more snug as their battle went on.

The match was structured perfectly, and by the time Shingo and Nakajima faced off I found myself desperately hoping that this relationship develops.  Shingo was dominate, mixing big bombs with guttural screams, but conclusions were kept at bay by invading BUSHIs and Tadasukes.  A post match ruckus showed how frustrated Kenoh was by the result.  This could be political, but if I was going to start the best feud of the year, this is exactly how I would do it. ****

Kazuchika Okada & Hiroshi Tanahashi def. Kaito Kiyomiya & Keiji Muto

J Michael: Of course, the specter of Ibushi hangs over this, with the report that this match was originally intended to have third legs in the Golden Star and Go Shiozaki. That’s a shame, but the silver lining is that by narrowing the match to a tag allowed for much more attention to be placed upon Kiyomiya, where it belonged.

Kiyomiya held court in most of this one, for obvious reasons. In his first go-around with Okada, there seemed to be a slight misalignment between the two, but that was almost immediately ironed out. I thought Kiyomiya paired better with Tanahashi overall (at least, until the closing stretch), if anything because they share a similar demeanor.

The legend of Okada fucking with those younger than him holds true, though; he was as supercilious as we’ve seen him in years, badgering Kiyomiya and expressing perpetual vilipend and dismissiveness towards the young Supernova. This might have come across more pronounced because of Okada’s gleeful audacity against Muto. Muto wasn’t having it, but Okada couldn’t contain himself. You just know the entire match, for him, was about throwing up the NWO Too Sweet when he did the Rainmaker Pose. What a glorious fuckface.

Muto and Tanahashi was more of an examination of who could feign mobility for long enough to get their stuff in. Both, of course, succeeded.

Kiyomiya truly shined in the closing stretch. Without question, this entire match was structured to showcase him, even if the final address was always going to be delivered by the New Japan monoliths. The increasing ferocity and destructive power of his European uppercuts as they pummeled Okada’s chest. The assiduousness and perseverance he displayed in fighting for that Tiger Suplex, the one that put down Go Shiozaki mere days ago. The effluence of emotion and tears as he found himself defeated at the literal feet of the current giants of this industry, and shuffled to the back by one of the previous ones. 

It was the Kaito Kiyomiya show. I’m looking forward to all of this to be transferred onto Muto by the end of Spring. ***3/4

Neil: Kiyomiya losing his GHC Heavyweight title to Muto in a rubbish match adds a lot of attention to this team, and this was not lost on the commentary team who hammered that point home to destruction.  

If NOAH had won the battle of legitimacy so far, Okada and Tanahashi were not ready to wave the white flag.  They both walked the ramp with a confidence that only proven success can give, and delivered a reminder that NJPW are still top of the puro tree.

Kiyomiya was given some rope with Okada, but Okada was always ready to snap back.  Kiyomiya would win a grapple, but it always ended by a big bomb from Okada, with a suggestion that he could have ended the exchange whenever he wanted.  Tanahashi gave him slightly more, but there was an expected hierarchy that wasn’t challenged.  Kiyomiya took the majority of the punishment, before being dumped outside and left to be counted out.

Kiyomiya took the punishment like a champ, but the ancient elephant in the room is Keiji Muto.  The tag would always be lukewarm at best, and while Tanahashi and Okada could sell brilliantly, Muto’s physical limitations built the ceiling of this match.

It speaks to the brilliance of Kiyomiya that, despite his positioning, he was still able to look excellent in the match.  His knee is beautiful, and especially when it  comes right after a Muto Shining Wizard. 

The Rainmaker put a definitive end to this, and it felt like a true exhibition.  Fine, but insignificant.  Kiyomiya crying at the end could be the start of a new chapter for him, but I doubt it. ***1/2


J Michael: A lot of this show felt like two companies lightly grazing each other, unwilling to commit to the sort of strenuous decision-making that would make a show of this type interesting in any way. Traditional tags with traditional heat, flavoured with the 2021 New Japan seasoning that’s induced a very unfortunate response from the general English-speaking public. But those last two matches, the two main events, are spectacular and worth the price alone. 

One gets the sense that options have been purposefully left open, either to be explored or not. In that sense, the show can be evaluated a couple of ways. For one, it succeeded in evoking excitement for future collaborations. And further, it succeeded in establishing legitimate rivalry that would justify future collaboration.

In this moment, the show, with its ebullient semi-main and captivating main event, is a peculiar and worthy watch. If you’re reading this in 2025, I hope with the wisdom of time this show is not just merely a historical novelty.

Neil: While the show had some highs and lows in terms of in ring action, it was interesting to approach this as a fan.  NOAH vs NJPW isn’t a real choice I have to make, but my time is limited and sometimes I do have to prioritise.  If I was making that decision based on this show, NOAH was the clear winner. NOAH felt like a roster of wrestlers, whereas NJPW demonstrated they are a promotion of a few shining lights shrouded in a lot of bullshit flavored darkness.  The LiJ/Kongo tag was superb, the pre-show was solid and there were two really good tag matches.

In this show, as in life – just skip House of Torture and you’ll enjoy yourself.  

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