It’s the most wonderful time of the year! That’s right, WRESTLE KINGDOM season! New Japan Pro-Wrestling will be doing two back-to-back nights in the Tokyo Dome for their flagship event for the third consecutive year.
One of the tropes that have been established with two nights of Wrestling Kingdom is double title matches involving several of the top stars. The IWGP Heavyweight Title matches at Wrestle Kingdom 14 and 15 delivered in-ring, but the setup for those matches was convoluted. This year we have another double title match scenario. However, this year’s setup and build make some sense.
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Main Event: IWGP World Heavyweight Championship
Shingo Takagi vs. Kazuchika Okada
As I mentioned earlier, there will be two IWGP World Heavyweight Title matches at Wrestle Kingdom 16. We have three men walking around with heavyweight championships going into this event.
First, we have Shingo Takagi, the legitimate IWGP World Heavyweight Champion. Shingo won the title at Dominion after Will Ospreay vacated the title due to injury. Will Ospreay returned to NJPW several months at Resurgence with a replica of the IWGP World Heavyweight and claimed to be the “Real World Champion.” Ospreay believes since he never lost the title and defeated Shingo twice this year, he should still be champion. Then we have Kazuchika Okada, who won the G1 Climax 31 Tournament. Instead of using a briefcase to represent his tournament win, Okada uses the beloved defunct Version 4 IWGP Heavyweight Title. Okada believes he should be recognized as a champion since he won the G1 with an impressive 9-1 record.
To settle the debate of who the true champion of NJPW is, Shingo will defend the IWGP World Heavyweight title against Okada. On Night 2, the winner of Shingo/Okada will defend the IWGP World Heavyweight title against Ospreay.
There’s a lot of history between Shingo and Okada. Shingo has done the unthinkable and defeated Okada twice this year. First in the opening round of the New Japan Cup, then at Dominion for the aforementioned vacant World Heavyweight Title. Shingo seems to have Okada’s number.
However, since their last match at Dominion, Okada has started utilizing his infamous Rainmaker Clothesline again. I have a tough time believing Shingo will get a third consecutive victory over Okada. With 2022 being the 50th Anniversary of NJPW, I think they’re going to want their Golden Boy back on top. Regardless of who wins, this will be an epic bout and an early match of the year contender.
7th Match: IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
El Desperado vs. Hiromu Takahashi
Hiromu Takahashi and El Desperado’s clash at the Best of the Super Jr. 27 Final was a great match that made several people’s 2020 Match of the Year list. Since then, people have been clamoring for these two to battle again on a big stage.
Hiromu and Desperado faced off again in the Best of the Super Jr. 28. They fought to a 30-minute time limit draw and delivered one of the best matches from this year’s league. Both men vowed to settle the score in the tournament final. However, that would not be the case. Desperado failed to make it to the final while Hiromu did. Hiromu defeated YOH in the Finals to earn a championship match against Desperado.
Hiromu has been on a mission for the Jr. Championship to main event a Wrestle Kingdom show. On this night, he and Desperado will be in the semi-main event. Which is a big deal considering the Jr. Title match is usually placed earlier in the show. Desperado is coming in with a big chip on his shoulder. Will the champ finally be able to beat Hiromu on the big stage? I think so.
6th Match: IWGP Tag Team Championships
Dangerous Tekkers (Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi) vs. CHAOS (Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI)
Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI have been having a great 2021. The majority of the year, they were the NEVER Six-Man Tag Champions along with CHAOS stablemate Tomohiro Ishii. The trio defended the titles in some of the best NJPW tag matches of the year. After losing the NEVER Six-Man titles, Goto and YOSHI-HASHI entered the 2021 World Tag League. After a long grueling tournament, Goto and YOSHI-HASHI won the league beating the IWGP Tag Team champions along the way. With their tournament win, they have earned the right to challenge Dangerous Tekkers for the titles at Wrestle Kingdom 16.
The Dangerous Tekkers had a great year as well. Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr. have been the faces of the Tag Division. Whether they were defending or challenging for the titles, Tekkers were a focal point in the division. Last year, Tekkers failed to defend the titles against the 2020 World Tag League Winners, Guerillas of Destiny. Taichi and Sabre will do everything in their power to make sure history doesn’t repeat its self. Unfortunately for Tekkers, I believe lightning will strike twice, and we’ll see new IWGP World Tag Team Champions.
5th Match: NEVER Openweight Championship
Tomohiro Ishii vs. EVIL
CHAOS and HOUSE OF TORTURE have been in a heated feud for several months. One of the pivotal moments of this feud was EVIL. Yujiro Takahashi and SHO ending the 454 Day NEVER Six-Man Title reign of Ishii, Goto, and YOSHI-HASHI. Of course, they won the titles utilizing underhanded tactics and the help of Dick Togo.
These factions would clash again in the 2021 World Tag League Final as EVIL and Yujiro faced off against Goto and YOSHI-HASHI. HOUSE OF TORTURE tried to use their shenanigans again to win the league. However, Ishii wouldn’t sit in the back and watch them take advantage of his stablemates. Ishii foiled EVIL and Yujiro’s plans allowing Goto and YOSHI-HASHI to win the league.
Now EVIL will be looking for revenge on the Stone Pitbull and to take his NEVER Openweight title. It won’t be an easy defense for Ishii as I’m sure we will see Togo, Yujiro, and SHO rear their ugly heads. I will be rooting for Ishii here, but with the unwanted push of HOUSE OF TORTURE, I won’t be surprised to see EVIL get the win.
4th Match: Katsuyori Shibata vs. X (Catch Wrestling Rules)
On April 9th, 2017, we all thought we saw Katsuyori Shibata’s last match. In that infamous match, the headbutt heard around the world happened, and Shibata suffered a subdural hematoma. However, Shibata wouldn’t let that keep him down. He became the head trainer of the LA DOJO, and over the years, we’ve seen him involved in physical angles. These angles gave fans a sliver of hope that a Shibata comeback could be possible.
Fast forward to the G1 Climax 31 Finals. NJPW fans worldwide were treated to a surprise 5-minute exhibition match with Shibata and Zack Sabre Jr. The two men wrestled to a time limit draw. After the match, Shibata proclaimed the next time we saw him it would be in his gear in an official match.
Shibata will have his first official match since 2017 on January 4th against a mystery opponent. During a Wrestle Kingdom Press Conference, Shibata announced that his match will be competed under Catch Wrestling rules. In a Catch Wrestling match, victory will be attained as usual, via pinfall, submission, countout, etc. However, strikes of any kind will be prohibited.
The news of the Catch Wrestling rules was disappointing to some fans hoping to Shibata compete in a regular pro wrestling match. I think all NJPW fans would love to see Shibata in a normal match, but that might not be something that could never happen again. We have no idea what his medical clearance is. Due to his injury, he might only be able to compete in Catch Wrestling/grappling matches for the rest of his career. If that’s the case, I would be happy with that. When done right, grappling matches can be very compelling and entertaining. It can be used as a unique attraction for NJPW cards. Regardless of who his opponent is, I expect this match to be a lot of fun. It will be so good to hear Shibata’s music blaring through the Tokyo Dome again.
3rd Match: Los Ingobernables De Japon (SANADA, BUSHI & Tetsuya Naito) vs United Empire (Jeff Cobb, Will Ospreay & Great-O-Khan)
Los Ingobernables De Japon and the United Empire will clash on January 4th. This match serves as a preview for Jeff Cobb vs. Tetsuya Naito and SANADA vs. Great-O-Khan. Both of those matches are set for January 5th. These men will be looking to get an advantage going into night 2. United Empire will also be looking to rectify their results from last year’s Wrestle Kingdom shows. This will be Ospreay’s first match in Japan since May 5th. I’m expecting him to get the win over BUSHI here.
2nd Match: Rocky Romero, Ryusuke Taguchi & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. BULLET CLUB (KENTA, Taiji Ishimori & El Phantasmo)
Another preview match will occur on night one with Hiroshi Tanahashi and the Mega Coaches against the BULLET CLUB. On night 2, Tanahashi will be challenging KENTA for the IWGP United States Championship in a No Disqualification match. While the Mega Coaches will be in a 3 Way Tag Team Match against BULLET CLUB’s Cutest Tag Team and Flying Tiger for the IWGP Jr. Tag Team Championships.
During the Road to Tokyo Dome tour, KENTA has continuously left Tanahashi laid out. This will be Tanahashi’s last chance to prove he can handle KENTA before they face off the next night.
ELP’s Sudden Death Super Kick has been a thorn in the side of everyone in the Jr. Division. The Mega Coaches will be looking to expose that ELP.s boot is loaded.
1st Match: YOH vs. SHO
Former Roponggi 3K teammates will square off in the opening match of the main card. The long-time partnership ended when SHO attacked YOH during the Summer Struggle tour. The Ropoggni boys went one-on-one at Wrestle Grand Slam in MetLife Dome. SHO defeated YOH by ref stoppage and went on to join BULLET CLUB and the HOUSE OF TORTURE.
In Best of Super Jr. 28, YOH was able to get revenge on SHO and prevent him from making it to the tournament’s final. In retaliation to the loss, SHO interfered in the BOSJ 28 final match and laid out YOH and Hiromu. Red Shoes thwarted SHO’s attempt to sabotage the tournament finals. YOH fought hard but failed to defeat Hiromu. The question now lingers, had SHO not interfered would YOH won the tournament?
These two men will be looking to settle their issues and prove who the better man is. The potential of HOUSE of TORTURE interference makes me not excited for the match. I’m expecting SHO to win here by hook or by crook.
Kick-Off: KOPW 2022 New Japan Ranbo
The New Japan Ranbo returns and will kick off on the pre-show. The final four men will advance to a Fatal 4-Way on night two, where the winner will become the first 2022 provisional KOPW Champion.
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