For the first time, NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16 took place for three nights. The first two shows on January 4th and 5th happened from the typical Tokyo Dome location, while the final event was a special New Japan Pro Wrestling vs. Pro Wrestling NOAH Supershow from Yokohama Arena.
The Tokyo Dome shows were headlined by two separate IWGP World Heavyweight Championship contests to determine an undisputed champion. Will Ospreay relinquished the title in May due to injury. Shingo Takagi won the gold at Dominion in June, while Kazuchika Okada won the G1 Climax 31 and looked to take his rightful top spot at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16.
With those three men in the main events, the rest of the roster was spread out along the two nights in title bouts and grudge matches. The third event featured a collection of tag and multi-man contests between the two major promotions in Japan. In this article, let's take a look at the seven takeaways from the three nights of NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16.
7) The Japanese Forbidden Door is open at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16
Coming into NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16, the term "forbidden door" has been used quite often. It is consistently used when talking about AEW and its relationship with various promotions. However, this phrase was first used to describe the possibility of AEW and NJPW working together.
Hiroshi Tanahashi first coined the term ahead of Wrestle Kingdom 14, but this can now be used to describe how NJPW has opened its doors to the rest of Japan. STARDOM is the leading promotion for women's wrestling in Japan. Over the past few years, the ladies of STARDOM have been highlighted on the pre-show of the Tokyo Dome shows, but this year they were on the main card.
Not only did STARDOM get a showcase on the NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16 lineup, but the third event was centered on another major company. Pro Wrestling NOAH has been steadily delivering consistent quality for many years, but they have never interacted directly until this year.
The Pro Wrestling NOAH roster appeared in the Tokyo Dome on NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16 Night 2 and had a confrontation with Los Ingobernables de Japon. The third Wrestle Kingdom 16 event featured the best of NOAH against New Japan and helped let both companies shine. The fact that NJPW has opened its doors to these two promotions says a lot about the changes that have happened.
6) STARDOM proves itself to a new audience at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16
World Wonder Ring Stardom was once again represented in the Tokyo Dome at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16. The top promotion for Joshi women's wrestling has earned a reputation for spectacular professional wrestling and a litany of stars that has been produced by the company. After a few years of being on the pre-show, the ladies were highlighted on the main card of Wrestle Kingdom this year.
Mayu Iwatani and Starlight Kid faced Tam Nakano and Saya Kamitani in a tag team contest. The four ladies held nothing back and put on a high octane sprint that had the fans on the edge of their seats. The high-flying action on display was fabulous and showed why Stardom deserved to be on NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16.
5) El Desperado takes the ace spot of the Junior Heavyweight division at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16
After winning his third Best of Super Juniors tournament, it felt like a foregone conclusion that Hiromu Takahashi would claim the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship for the fifth time. However, El Desperado has proven to be a formidable challenge for Hiromu throughout their careers.
Both men put on a great IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship Match. The pacing was unreal and had plenty of thrilling action. El Desperado cemented his place at the top of the Juniors by defeating Hiromu Takahashi to retain the title. This made sure the New Japan fanbase recognized that there was a new ace of the division.
4) Tetsuya Naito defeats Jeff Cobb and challenges for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16
Tetsuya Naito came off an up-and-down 2021 heading into NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16. After several physical confrontations with Jeff Cobb, the Los Ingobernables de Japon leader faced the Imperial Unit of the United Empire in a special singles match.
This felt like it could be a huge victory for Cobb in his continued rise up the ranks of New Japan Pro Wrestling. However, this wasn't meant to be. Cobb was physically dominant and used his unmatched strength to overwhelm Naito, but the LIJ member withstood the pain to hit Destino for the win. With this win, Naito has positioned himself for a shot at the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship.
3) Katsuyori Shibata returns from brain surgery and changes the rules at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16
Katsuyori Shibata made his triumphant return to in-ring action after more than four years at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16. It was none other than Shibata's lead student at the LA dojo, Ren Narita, who accepted the challenge. This was a pleasant surprise for what was supposed to be a catch wrestling rules match.
However, Shibata wanted the real thing and wanted a standard wrestling bout with strikes. The two men didn't hold anything back and had a physically intense contest with crisp technical wrestling throughout. Shibata hit his signature Penalty Kick on Narita to win. The passion for this business is unparalleled in Shibata. He loves wrestling and finally gets to do what he loves.
2) Hiroshi Tanahashi/KENTA steal the show at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16 in an insane, bloody war
Hiroshi Tanahashi tried to regain the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship from KENTA in a No Disqualification Match at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16. This contest would stand out on this night of pure wrestling because of its barbaric nature and high risk.
KENTA looked to destroy his rival, using any weapon that he could get his hands on. The Bullet Club member assembled a ladder to give Tanahashi the kill shot, but this came back to haunt him. With KENTA on the ladder, the Ace shook the wobbly structure to make the champion fall off and land face-first on a garbage can.
KENTA was split open and bled heavily due to this fall. Tanahashi didn't end it right there as he wanted to deliver the kill shot. He set KENTA on a table and climbed the wobbly ladder before turning around to hit the High Fly Flow. Tanahashi retained the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship and finally settled the score with KENTA at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16.
1) Kazuchika Okada is back on top at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16 in two consecutive Tokyo Dome classics
Kazuchika Okada lost the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in the first dual gold battle at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 14 in 2020. For two years, the Rainmaker was on the outside looking in for the world title scene despite being arguably the greatest heavyweight champion in the company's history.
Okada went on a journey that led to him winning the G1 Climax 31 tournament and getting back to the Tokyo Dome main event at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16. On Night 1, the CHAOS leader faced Shingo Takagi for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. Takagi held down the company by being its most consistent in-ring performer and wanted to keep his spot.
Okada and Shingo delivered a fantastic main event inside the Tokyo Dome. Despite restrictions on the crowd, their clapping was never louder than for this match at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16 Night 1. After two straight losses to Shingo, Okada finally hit the Rainmaker on Takagi for the first time to defeat him and win the IWGP World Heavyweight Title.
Kazuchika Okada had no time to rest when Night 2 was headlined by the Rainmaker facing his former brother in CHAOS, Will Ospreay. The two men met in a Match of the Year candidate last year at Wrestle Kingdom, but there was more pressure and stakes at play this year.
Okada and Ospreay set an incredible pace in this NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16 main event. The intensity escalated as the match went on with both men putting on a masterful performance. The counters were smooth and exhilarating to watch, with Ospreay reversing the Rainmaker into a Spanish Fly being a highlight. The near falls kept the Tokyo Dome crowd fully invested.
In the end, Okada countered the Hidden Blade into his signature dropkick. He followed with a landslide piledriver and finally the Rainmaker to retain the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship in a sensational Tokyo Dome classic. Across two nights on the biggest show of the year, Kazuchika Okada took his rightful place at the top of the company at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16.