clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 2016 results, recap, reactions: A New Ace

Death's Mortality on tumblr

Working backwards to pick apart another great January 4 New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) did Gedo & Jado do with "their WrestleMania"?

Kazuchika Okada v. Hiroshi Tanahashi: The Final Chapter

From the reactions across the internet, this one might actually be the most divisive match on the show. I don't think either side of the debate is wrong, it really just comes down to investment. The quality of this match, like many great rivalries in wrestling, really comes down to how invested you are in that story, because it's so tied to the series of matches they've already had.

Investment always matters to some degree, but it especially matters for rivalries because of the way they draw on the past and they tell that longer term story. The more invested you are, the more the small details matter to you, the more the long feeling out processes in their matches can keep your attention, the less bothersome things bother you. And if you're heavily invested in it, the big moments matter more. That moment where it becomes clear that Okada is ready to be the Ace is going to hit you harder if Okada's quest to become the Ace deeply matters to you.

For me personally, their rivalry has not been one that has captivated me, so I felt myself drifting in the early going, bothersome things frustrated me more (like Okada not adjusting his offense to give meaning to Tanahashi's offensive attack), and it didn't strike me the same way in those big moments. Similarly, I imagine many of the folks that were captivated by this rivalry might not have been as captivated as I was by the Banks/Bayley rivalry in NXT, where I threw all the snowflakes and MOTY talk at both of their big matches, and thus would have viewed their matches differently, and I can totally understand that on their end, not everything is going to hit you the same way from an emotional investment standpoint.

With that being said, it's still most definitely a great match, but for me it won't be the MOTY, nor do I even see it as the best match of this night.

AJ Styles v. Shinsuke Nakamura: Dream Match

This was painted as a Dream Match coming in, and these two absolutely delivered on that. The match was really just classic professional wrestling. Shinsuke Nakamura in the Tokyo Dome remains one of the most impressive wrestlers alive, and AJ Styles has been putting out consistently great work everywhere he goes, and it showed here.
It didn't reach the heights in terms of storytelling and theatricality of Ibushi/Nakamura, but it made up for that in crisp work, smooth execution, and an incredibly well put together match. It was paced very well, never dragging, but always building, the finishing stretch was fantastic with Nakamura doing the unthinkable and kicking out of the Styles Clash and AJ Styles' tremendous sells of the Boma Ye, and featured great moments throughout. A couple of my favorites included AJ faking that his back injury was more serious than it was to catch Nakamura off guard in a big spot as well as AJ firing his finger guns at Nakamura and Shinsuke catching the bullet in his mouth, because that's the kind of weird stuff you can get away with when you're as charismatic as The King of Strong Style.

Katsuyori Shibata v. Tomohiro Ishii: The Measuring Stick

For the sake of their health, it probably would have been wiser for Shibata and Ishii to just get out a ruler and drop trou, but they decided instead to actually have a wrestling match to determine who's was bigger, putting their long term health at risk for our entertainment, and it was simply incredible.

I was loving this match from before the bell even sounded as both Ishii and Shibata looked like dogs chained to a fence, desperately waiting to be unleashed, and as soon as the bell sounded they were instantly laying into each other with hard shots, and the intensity rarely stopped for the entirety of the bout. It's a very particular style and definitely not for everyone, but especially with two guys as talented as Katsuyori Shibata and Tomohiro Ishii the style is just a joy to watch. What makes them special is that they're able to do this type of match without it ever going over the line into parody. Both guys have tremendous charisma that makes you believe those fighting spirit spots in a way you might not for lesser guys, and they're smart enough to go just up to that line of too far without crossing it. There were a couple sequences in the match with big no-sold head drops but instead of ignoring them, the flurry lasted just long enough and then both lied dead in the center of the ring. The match really felt like it built in viciousness and violence as it went on which is crucial for this type of match. The finish being a mere single PK after all that violence felt a little abrupt, especially at Wrestle Kingdom, but otherwise, sensational stuff from both guys. I feel very good about putting Shibata on top of my Most Outstanding Observer Ballot, there really feels like no one better right now.

And just from a personal standpoint, as a huge fan of Shibata it was incredible to see him finally hold single gold in New Japan, even if it's the NEVER title. Both of these guys are sensational and should probably be higher on the card than they are, but that's always been the case. I'll certainly take this, because a singles title means he's going to have to actually work some singles matches on their big shows, and that's really all I care about for him. I'd certainly prefer if he had one of the two big belts, but baby steps.

Bullet Club (Gallows & Gun) vs. GBH (Honma & Makabe):

This right here was really when the show proper kicked off. I was incredibly impressed with this match. Given my feelings on Makabe and Gallows I was not excited for this one, but all four men in this match really raised their game tonight. I shouldn't have been surprised, given that Bullet Club had by far their best tag match of the year at last year's Wrestle Kingdom, and they did so here yet again. Really well structured match, built well and was engaging throughout with lots of big moments. I couldn't connect with it on a personal level like I might have before the allegations against Honma came out, but the match itself was really well worked by all involved.

Tetsuya Naito v. Hirooki Goto:

Los Ingobernables! Yet more interference in this one, which was frustrating, but at least in this case the match around the interference was much stronger than the previous three and it was better timed and integrated into the match. The match really kicked off quickly with an absolutely brutal looking neckbreaker from the apron to the floor on a Japanese table, which obviously did not break. This was one of those matches, like the Ibushi match at the G1, where Naito is prepared to kill himself by taking insane looking bumps over and over. The Kaiten particularly looked absolutely brutal, as did a couple of his backflip clothesline sells where he looked inches away from landing right on his neck.

Aside from the Elgin match at the G1, this is my favorite Goto match in a while as well. Goto getting the win here sets up for him to be Okada's first challenger coming out of the Dome at New Beginning. From a mark standpoint, I'm disappointed that Naito lost, but in this specific case I do actually think Gedo has a plan in mind for Naito, especially with Dominion in Osaka once again, which would be a perfect place for a heel like Naito to challenge Okada given how much heat he gets there.

The undercard:

As much as I liked the top end, the undercard was disappointing. One of the really frustrating things about the undercard was how interference laden it was. That's really not what New Japan is meant to be about. It's one of the big differentiating factors between that and the Fed, and yet here, Gedo really dove in two footed in trying to sports entertain.

New Japan Rumble:

My qualms about the undercard do not apply to the pre-show. This match was just incredibly fun.  Much more entertaining than last year's version, and a big part of that was actually Cheeseburger. Watching Cheeseburger meekly throwing strikes against Japanese legends (and YOSHI-HASHI) with them  not even slightly registering was hugely entertaining. As were people like Liger continually trying to help hold guys so he throw various types of strikes, aped from other participants. They got a lot of little things right here, from old man Fujiwara managing to Armbar Captain New Japan right out of the match to everyone in the match stopping what they were doing to beat the hell out of Rysuke Taguchi, because Taguchi is the absolute worst, Great Kabuki getting DQed in a Rumble for spitting mist, the originator of Taguchi's ass-based offense, Shiro Koshinaka making an appearance, and Haku(!!!) as a member of Bullet Club! For the first time in a while, Bullet Club is actually cool. Oh, and Kazushi Sakuraba proving once again that he might be the toughest son of a gun on the planet by actually participating in this match after getting pummeled in a shoot fight for RIZIN a mere week ago. Seriously though Sak, we love you, but take some time off.

The only flaw in the match was the booker booking himself to win so he could look cool to Momoka Ariyasu, a Japanese idol singer, but I don't wanna throw too many stones there until we know for sure this isn't playing at the end of the Royal Rumble match.

The Briscoes & Toru Yano v. Tama Tonga, Bad Luck Fale, and Yujiro Takahashi:
This was a match I was actually incredibly excited for. The Briscoes are one of the best acts in wrestling, Toru Yano's schtick always works for me, and I think you could argue Tama Tonga is the second best member of the Bullet Club as a performer, but for some reason this match just didn't click at all. It already started in disaster, as Yujiro Takahashi, one of the worst wrestlers on the planet, didn't even bring his one saving grace, Mao-chan, and instead brought some rando. I should have known then that disappointment was coming.

It really died among the live crowd, and even watching at home it didn't deliver. I thought Mark Briscoe came out looking good, but other than that, the only saving grace is that Briscoes now hold gold in NJPW and Yano may be coming over for Ring of Honor, because I think that Trio definitely has much better matches in them down the line, and Yano in the states sounds fantastic.

Jay Lethal v. Michael Elgin:

Another huge disappointment. Very little about this one made sense. Elgin did his best to get the crowd engaged, and they were for his big spots, but they really could not care less about Lethal or the match itself. People at the show reported that large swathes of the audience used this one as a bathroom break. And then to cap it off, Elgin lost the match, which really makes no sense whatsoever.

The only purpose for putting that match in the Tokyo Dome is that the crowd would have popped huge for Elgin winning. The finish, which saw Lethal brain Elgin with the Book of Truth as he was going for a powerbomb and then hit Lethal Injection absolutely deflated the crowd, not in a way that built heel heat, but it in a way that reflected that they no longer cared. It didn't do anything for Lethal and made Elgin look worse after his tremendous performance at the G1 had won over the Japanese fans in a major way. Really a failure across the board, and I feel pretty terrible for Elgin as this could have been a big moment for him, and he definitely earned that moment with his performances last year in Japan.

Opening Spotfest:

I have been very open about being extremely over the NJPW Jr. Tag Division due to staleness and matches that tend to run together, but I actually thought this one was a bit better than their recent fare, but still didn't particularly love it. The wrong team won, as the highlight was pretty clearly Matt Sydal and Ricochet, who definitely added something to the match (especially Sydal who's probably one of the most underrated guys going right now), but because of Sydal and Ricochet, I did at least find myself enjoying the match more. The execution was also a lot better than the fourway opener at last year's WK, which also helped. Still not anything worth going out of your way to see unless you dig the style, but was at least watchable.

KUSHIDA v. Kenny Omega:

I actually don't have a ton to say about this one. I still feel like these two have yet to have a great match. They already started on the wrong foot with more interference nonsense, after doing it in Lethal/Elgin and the opener, and there were cool moments, particularly the selling on the arm by Omega in a big spot, but it never really came together in the way a great match should. I was starting to get worried about the show at this point, but luckily, everything after the undercard delivered.


All in all, I really liked this show, even more than I thought I would, but it had basically the same flaws Wrestle Kingdom 9 had, which was that the show was something like 5 hours long, and and it took hours to really get going.

That's a long time to heat up. With that being said, the last five matches all absolutely delivered (even if I didn't enjoy the Main as much as some who were more invested in the story than I am), so I still can't see going lower than a B+/A- on the show, and I'm leaning on the higher end.

Grade: A-

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Cageside Seats Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your pro wrestling news from Cageside Seats