Night one of Wrestle Kingdom 16 features an IWGP World Heavyweight Championship match, three other title matches, plus the return of Katsuyori Shibata.
In the main event, Shingo Takagi defends the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship against G1 Climax winner Kazuchika Okada. The winner goes on to defend the title against Will Ospreay in the main event of tomorrow's show.
In the semi-main, El Desperado defends the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship against Best of the Super Juniors winner Hiromu Takahashi. The two went to a time limit draw in their most recent meeting in the BOSJ tournament.
Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr. will defend the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship against World Tag League winners Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI.
Tomohiro Ishii will defend the NEVER Openweight Championship against EVIL from Bullet Club's House of Torture.
Katsuyori Shibata returns to action in a match under catch wrestling rules where strikes will not be permitted. Shibata will face a mystery opponent.
Tetsuya Naito, SANADA and BUSHI of Los Ingobernables de Japon will take on Will Ospreay, Jeff Cobb and Great-O-Khan of United Empire in a trios match.
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Ryusuke Taguchi and Rocky Romero will face KENTA, Taiji Ishimori and El Phantasmo in another trios battle.
Former Roppongi 3K teammates SHO and YOH will square off in a grudge match in the main card opener.
A New Japan Ranbo will be held on the pre-show, with the final four competitors advancing to the first KOPW 2022 match on tomorrow's show.
Our live coverage begins with the pre-show at 2 a.m. Eastern time.
KOPW 2022 New Japan Ranbo - Chase Owens, Toru Yano, Minoru Suzuki, and CIMA advance
Today, the KOPW enters its third year with this Ranbo. This is a rumble style match with an unset number of competitors. Competitors can be eliminated by being thrown over the top rope, pinned, submitted, or disqualified. The final four wrestlers move on to challenge for the KOPW 2022 trophy.
Aaron Henare and Chase Owens opened the match. Young lions Kosei Fujita and Yuto Nakashima at three and four. Owens and Henare gained the upper hand on the young lions just in time for Ryohei Oiwa to make the save at number five. Owens and Henare maintained control even with the numbers disadvantage.
Master Wato entered the match and immediately took control, but things slowed down in time for Hiroyoshi Tenzan to enter at number seven. The match remained uneventful as Minoru Suzuki made his way to the ring. Suzuki immediately tapped out all three young lions. Satoshi Kojima hit the ring in time to help Tenzan stop the Suzuki threat. Likewise, Taka Michinoku aided Suzuki in fighting off Tenzan and Kojima.
CIMA entered at number eleven, repping GLEAT and STRONGHEARTS. Awesome. He immediately eliminated Taka after hitting the ring. CIMA also eliminated Wato after Tomoaki Honma entered at twelve. We had DOUKI at thirteen, Yuji Nagata at fourteen, and Yoshinobu Kanemaru at fifteen before a pile on pin eliminated Tenzan and Kojima.
Enter Togi Makabe and Bad Luck Fale. Fale cleared the ring of DOUKI, Kanemaru, Nagata and Honma, eliminating. Six-time IWGP Champion Tatsumi Fujinami entered next. Makabe eliminated Fale just as former KOPW holder Toru Yano entered the match at nineteen, the last entrant. Yano eliminated Henare, Fujinami, and Makabe almost immediately, leaving the final four of Chase Owens, Toru Yano, Minoru Suzuki, and CIMA to advance to the finals.
This was a silly ranbo. Seeing CIMA made this worth watching for me personally, but it’s not like this was anything more than a goofy match with some fun moments.
YOH defeated SHO
The match opened with YOH hitting a quick tope con hilo. YOH tried driving SHO on the ramp, but SHO used a member of the ring crew to stop YOH’s early momentum. SHO then slammed YOH onto the entrance ramp before slamming the ring crewman into YOH. SHO was in control.
A dragon screw from YOH opened an opportunity. YOH struck down SHO before stomping in his face. What followed was an extended back and forth exchange that ended with a spear from SHO. SHO led the match for some time, scoring a near fall with a powerbomb/piledriver combination.
YOH captured the leg again, scoring a visible submission on SHO, but Dick Togo distracted the referee. This bought SHO enough time to retake the match, locking in snakebite; YOH barely survived the hold. SHO grabbed a wrench as Togo distracted the referee. YOH ducked the wrench attack, sending SHO into Togo. YOH then folded SHO into a pin for a sudden into this opening match.
SHO tried hitting YOH with the wrench again after the match, but YOH landed a pump kick to stand tall.
This was not at all what I expected. It certainly didn’t feel like a Wrestle Kingdom match between two tag partners who are supposed to hate each other.
KENTA, Taiji Ishimori & El Phantasmo (Bullet Club) defeated Rocky Romero, Ryusuke Taguchi & Hiroshi Tanahashi
Rocky and ELP opened the match with a typical sequence. A similar, but more hip focused, sequence played out after Taguchi and Ishimori tagged in. Inside the ring, ELP and Ishimori took control over Taguchi as KENTA attacked Tanahashi with a chair on the outside.
Taguchi finally escaped isolation to tag Tanahashi into the match. Tanahashi overwhelmed Bullet Club, gaining quick control. A referee bump allowed Bullet Club to steal momentum back. KENTA brutalized Tanahashi with a cane before Taguchi and Rocky made the save allowing Tanahashi to land a few cane strikes of his own. The referee caught Tanahashi and disqualified him.
I like this Tanahashi, but at Wrestle Kingdom? I guess this sets up for tomorrow’s US title match, but we’re coming off of a week of “road to” shows, so I really don’t get it.
Jeff Cobb, Will Ospreay & Great-O-Khan (United Empire) defeated SANADA, BUSHI & Tetsuya Naito (Los Ingobernables De Japon)
This match opened with a brawl that left Cobb and Naito alone in the ring. Cobb got the best of Naito in their opening interaction, a lead the O-Khan continued. Naito finally gained some ground with help from BUSHI and SANADA.
SANADA and O-Khan tagged in. SANADA locked O-Khan into the paradise lock before O-Khan tried for a couple of quick pins. SANADA tagged out after landing a dropkick, prompting Ospreay to tag in for the first time. Before Ospreay could hit Strom Breaker, Naito made the save. Naito then attempted Destino on Cobb, but Cobb revered. The ring was cleared after a sequence of attempted finishers allowing Ospreay to hit BUSHI with Hidden Blade, leading to the pin.
This was a fine showcase tag with nothing standout (other than Ospreay’s participation) compared to the previous LIJ vs UE matches from this tour.
Katsuyori Shibata defeated Ren Narita
Ren Narita was revealed as Shibata’s opponent. Not quite the surprise a lot of people expected, but I’m not complaining about it. This is easily the biggest match in Narita’s early career.
Before the match, Shibata grabbed a microphone, making this a normal match. Striking is allowed.
The match opened with a beautiful grappling sequence. Before standing up, Shibata took full mount, as did Narita. After some light striking, the grappling continued as Shibata secured a figure four leglock.
Shibata worked Narita into a corner, landing heavy blows; Narita returned the favor before a takedown left Shibata in a favorable position once more. A corner dropkick and suplex led the match to the ground again. On the mat, Narita took control, locking in a cloverleaf. After Shibata found the ropes, Narita secured a leglock.
Shibata regained a standing position, but his leg was hurting. Regardless, a kick to Narita sent him to the outside. Back in the ring, Shibata stretched, slapped, and kicked Narita. Narita fired up, landing multiple leg kicks, but Shibata resisted. Shibata choked Narita, leading to the PK and a pin.
This was a tremendous grappling focused match with dynamic segments of striking and excellent pacing—what a return for Shibata.
NJPW is returning to AXS
A brief video announced New Japan will be returning to AXS TV on January 20th.
NEVER Openweight Championship: EVIL defeated Tomohiro Ishii (c) to win the title
This match opened with EVIL and Ishii fighting with chairs on the outside. Interference from Dick Togo allowed EVIL to win the chair war, leaving EVIL with a significant lead. Ishii eventually sparked up, landing some blows and suplexes, but a referee bump and Togo chair shot left EVIL back in control.
A superplex from Ishii seemed to turn things in his favor, but again Togo interfered. Ishii accidentally hit the ref with a lariat, prompting Togo to choke him with a wire. Yujiro Takahashi hit the ring, helping Togo beat down Ishii. Ishii managed to survive the onslaught, only for SHO to hit the ring as well. YOH ran out to save Ishii just as a second referee joined the match.
Ishii rallied, landing an enzuigiri. Togo attempted to use the NEVER belt, but YOH held him off. Regardless of YOH’s efforts, the referee was distracted. Yujiro hit a low blow, EVIL hit Ishii with the NEVER belt and Everything is Evil. Evil then pinned Ishii to win the NEVER Openweight Championship.
This was a House of Torture match, not an Ishii match (and a bad one at that).
IWGP Tag Team Championships: Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI (CHAOS) defeated Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi (Dangerous Tekkers) (c) to win the titles
Miho Abe returned to Taichi’s side tonight—how sweet.
Goto and YH took early advantage, but the Tekkers took control as the match spilt to the outside. Back in the ring, ZSJ kept the lead, working over YH on the mat. YH eventually secured the hot-tag, allowing Goto to attempt an offensive sequence; ZSJ used grappling to hold off long enough for Taichi and YH to initiate a match reset.
ZSJ and Taichi stretched Goto and YH at the same time. Taichi ripped off his pants after the team isolated Goto; this bought YH enough time to grab Taichi, making the match a one-on-one affair once more. Goto secured the tag, prompting a YH/Taichi striking battle. Taichi managed to win out, but YH’s persistence allowed him to fight through. A powerful lariat left YH with a near fall. The CHAOS team hit a double drop, but ZSJ made the save.
Taichi fought free and nearly stole a win with the Gedo clutch. Taichi tried for Black Mephisto, but YH turned it into a destroyer. Goto hit Taichi with a GTR, setting up the CHAOS pair for a Naraku, leading to the pin. YOSHI-HASHI and Hirooki Goto are IWGP Tag Champions.
After the match, YH offered Taichi a handshake; Taichi slapped away the hand and gave him something resembling a hug.
I enjoyed this. YH winning gold will always be special.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: El Desperado (c) defeated Hiromu Takahashi to retain the title
A forearm exchange opened this match; this turned to slapping moments later. Things picked up as both men took turns knocking each other down. Desperado landed a tope con hilo only for Hiromu to respond with a sunset flip bomb to the floor; this was a reset in effect, bringing the first sequence to a close.
Hiromu landed multiple heavy strikes, forcing Desperado into the corner. Desperado fought free, landing a spinebuster to take match control. Desperado climbed to the top, landing a splash, à la Jun Kasai, that yielded a near fall. Hiromu fought back, landing a powerbomb and a suplex into the corner to stay competitive. A dynamite plunger left Hiromu with a near fall.
The two went back and forth again, trying to land anything substantial; this struggle worked its way to the mat where Desperado locked in a hold on the leg. Hiromu fought back to a standing position and landed a lariat to reset the match.
Hiromu landed Victory Royal to score a near fall, and Desperado connected with a back to belly driver for a near fall of his own. A punch from Desperado flattened Hiromu, but Hiromu avoided the impending finish. Hiromu landed his own closed fist strike that dropped Desperado, and Desperado landed another. Desperado landed two Pinche Locos and pinned Hiromu to close this match.
This was quite good.
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada defeated Shingo Takagi (c) to win the title
The opening chain wrestling lasted for a while. A lariat from Shingo led the match to the outside. Shingo landed a suplex to the floor after surviving an Okada DDT. Back in the ring, Shingo maintained control.
Okada finally landed a tackle to reset the match. A flapjack left Okada in the driver’s seat. Okada knocked Shingo from the top rope to the floor with a dropkick, taking the action back outside. Okada slammed Shingo into the barricade before leaping it to deliver a splash. Between the ropes, Okada locked in the money clip. Shingo rallied, landing a DDT of his own. Shingo attempted a sliding lariat, but Okada caught him with the money clip again. Okada hit a tombstone piledriver and tied Shingo up with the money clip once more.
Okada tried for the rainmaker, but Shingo leveled him with a lariat of his own. Shingo hit the rainmaker pose; this infuriated Okada. Okada went off on Shingo, but Shingo did not back down. Shingo withstood the storm, landing a lariat to end the sequence that Okada started.
Things worked back outside the ring where Okada tried dropping Shingo on the ramp; instead, Shingo tossed Okada on the ramp from a fireman’s carry. Okada beat the ring-out count at 19. Shingo hoisted Okada to the top and hit a superplex that forced the crowd to break the clapping rule. A sliding lariat left Shingo with a near fall.
Shingo attempted Made in Japan; Okada slipped free, landing a dropkick. Okada then landed two short-arm lariats and tried for a third. Shingo landed Made in Japan twice; Okada kicked out. Shingo landed a pumping bomber; Okada kicked out. Shingo tried for last of the dragon, but again, Okada slipped free. Okada landed a rainmaker but couldn’t reach Shingo for the pin.
Both men traded strikes, and Shingo won out. Shingo tried for last of the dragon again, but Okada slipped free and tried for the money clip. Shingo fought free and hoisted Okada to the top rope in a fireman’s carry. Okada reversed, landing a DDT from the top. Okada landed a German but Shingo ducked the rainmaker. Shingo connected with a lariat that flattened Okada. Shingo tried for last of the dragon again, but Okada slipped free.
Okada landed a dropkick that Shingo sprung up from. Okada pulled Shingo in, landed the rainmaker, and pinned him to win the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship for the first time.
After the match, Okada did not take the new belt; instead, he bowed to the old IWGP Heavyweight championship. After paying his respect to the Heavyweight championship, the referee placed the new belt around his waist.
Will Ospreay hit the ring and cut a promo on Okada following the match, calling him the interim champion and insulting his attire. Osprey said he would win tomorrow, making it possible for Okada to leave to pursue a career in acting. Okada responded by calling Ospreay a fake champion.
Okada closed the show with a promo, praising Shingo and the heavyweight championship of old. He claimed NJPW was the best promotion in the world and made some comments referring to COVID.
This match took a while to get going, but once it did, it’s precisely what you would expect: prolonged sequences, convincing near falls, and ramping intensity.