Reviews

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16 Night Three Review: New Japan vs. NOAH

njpw noah wrestle kingdom

Welcome to TJRWrestling’s review of Night Three of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 16 event, which took place on January 8th, 2022. Even though it was a New Japan event, this show was being crosspromoted by, and featured wrestlers from, Pro Wrestling NOAH.

NJPW has done this sort of outside invader’s story on their January 4 Dome shows many times before, going as far back as 1996. But this is the first time that the ‘invading promotion’ isn’t just a support player but co-star of the show.

This show followed a similar pattern to earlier Wrestle Kingdoms in that New Japan wrestlers faced off against outsiders throughout the show. The idea was that one promotion would reign supreme at the end based on total number of wins. New Japan has done this several times before with companies like All Japan, Zero1, and TNA over the years. There have also been NOAH wrestlers on WK shows before, but never at this level.

The NOAH wrestlers had something to prove more than ever before now that they’re given the biggest spotlight they’ve had in years. But were they able to take it to New Japan as they said they would on Night Two? Let’s take a look.

Pre-show: Match #1: Kosei Fujita [NJPW] and Yasutaka Yano [NOAH] fought to a ten-limit draw

Fujita represented New Japan and Yano represented NOAH. So naturally, it made perfect sense for the first actual match on this New Japan vs. NOAH-themed show to end in a draw.

Aside from that larger storyline, the match itself was as minimalistic as it gets. It was simply ten minutes of wrestling and counter-wrestling with lots of cool technical exchanges, transitions and reversals. Neither wrestler had any personality or flair, as shown by their nondescript attires and focus on action over charisma. The closest the match got to having a story was when Fujita slapped Yano and Yano responded by trying to rip Fujita’s arm off. But Fujita fired back by spamming dropkicks and locking in a Boston Crab. Had Yano tapped, it would’ve been extra embarrassing since that’s considered the most rookie submission hold in Japan.

This was a great way for both companies to showcase their stars of tomorrow and it was a great example of using the time-limit gimmick to add tension and excitement to the end of the match. Good start to the show.

Final Rating: ***

New Japan = 0; NOAH = 0

Pre-Show: Match #2: Tencozy (Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima) and Yuji Nagata [NJPW] defeated Funky Express (King Tany, Muhammad Yone and Akitoshi Saito) [NOAH]

Whereas the first match established the serious nature of the NJPW vs. NOAH theme, this match ignored it altogether. While the New Japan team looked focused, the NOAH team treated this as a joke. It was as if the Japanese version of 3MB were sent to wrestle against three aging former world champions and weren’t told how important the stakes were.

Anyways, this match was exactly what one would expect from six men with the combined age of 300. Everything was simple (just like the first match), but with the risk and fluidity of moves turned way down. It was fine overall, with both Nagata and Kojima shining as the best wrestlers in the match. Though to be fair, that isn’t a high bar given what they were dealing with here.

Final Rating: *3/4

New Japan = 1; NOAH = 0

Main Card

Match #3: CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI), Master Wato and Ryusuke Taguchi [NJPW] defeated Daisuke Harada, Hajime Ohara, Daiki Inaba, Yoshiki Inamura and Kinya Okada) [NOAH]

If you’ve seen one middle-of-the-card ten-man tag match you’ve seen them all. Nothing of note happened here beyond the typical peaks and valleys of a multi-man match. Everyone got their brief moment to shine. There was a protracted heat spot involving Taguchi getting his ass kicked (literally). Another brave soul tried to brawl with Ishii and got stomped for it (though he did put up a valiant effort). Each wrestler got their turn to hit a big move on someone from the opposite team in a my-turn-your-turn exchange.

In the end, it came down to HASHI for New Japan and Okada for NOAH. And despite Okada looking strong at first, he was no match for HASHI’s experience. But not only did HASHI beat Okada (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d ever type), but he made him submit to the Boston Crab, which is what Fujita tried to do earlier. So now (Kinya) Okada has to walk around dealing with the fact that YOSHI-HASHI, the guy that the bottom of New Japan’s totem pole above only the Young Lions, made him tap out with the rookie’s submission hold. Talk about embarrassing.

Final Rating: **3/4

New Japan = 2; NOAH = 0

Match #4: SHO [NJPW] defeated Atsushi Kotoge [NOAH]

The only good thing about this match was that it was short.

Someone in New Japan must have a fondness for American-style shenanigans because that’s what this was. Kotoge did what he could to be serious and focus on wrestling, but he couldn’t do much when SHO kept pulling out cheap tricks. SHO didn’t even wrestle that much in general; most of what he did involved using the referee as a shield, beating up a NOAH Young Lion, and hitting Kotoge with foreign objects. It was as if these guys were on two different pages; there was little chemistry, little in the way of story, and unnecessary cheap heat that felt out of place on such a special show. This is a completely skippable match; nothing important happened in it.

Final Rating: *

New Japan = 3; NOAH = 0

Match #5: Stinger (Hayata and Seiki Yoshioka) [NOAH] defeated Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori and Gedo) [NJPW]

My God, what a disappointment.

On paper this should’ve been solid. Ishimori alone is an incredible cruiserweight wrestler and he was going into the match with two of NOAH’s most important junior heavyweights. The problem here was Gedo. He dragged Ishimori down to his level by making Ishimori emulate his tired cheap tactics. The desired moments of explosive cruiserweight action were juxtaposed by boring segments involving back rake after back rake. Worse, the most important guy in the match, NOAH Junior Heavyweight Champion Hayata, barely got a minute to do anything at all. He won the match for his team and company, but didn’t do that much to really impress anyone that hadn’t seen him before. Maybe with another five minutes and less Gedo, this could’ve been something actually interesting.

Final Rating: *1/2

New Japan = 3; NOAH = 1

Match #6: Suzuki-gun (El Desperado and DOUKI) [NJPW] defeated Los Perros del Mal De Japón (Yo-Hey and Nosawa Rongai) [NOAH]

This was the most one-sided match thus far in terms of actual wrestling. For the third consecutive match, one of the teams relied on cheap tricks and shenanigans to try and win. In this case, the NOAH team spent most of the match doing bland and repetitive heat spots which were clearly designed to make people cheer, boo and make noise with their mouths. But this is a Japanese show in the middle of a pandemic; all the fans could do is applaud gently if they liked anything. That made both Yo-Hey and Rongai seem like they were trying to pull teeth in order to get the faintest of reactions. The only good part came at the end when Yo-Hey tried to pull Despy’s mask off. That was basically his death sentence because Despy proceeded to out-grapple and demolish him to win the match and widen the gap between the two companies. Overall, this was fine but underwhelming.

Final Rating: **

New Japan = 4; NOAH = 1

Match #7: Sugiura-gun (Takashi Sugiura and Kazushi Sakuraba) and KENTA Toru Yano [NOAH] defeated Suzuki-gun (Taichi, Minoru Suzuki and TAKA Michinoku) [NJPW]

KENTA was taken out of this match following his brutal No-DQ match with Hiroshi Tanahashi on Night Two. That match left him bleeding badly and riddled with injuries (what else is new), which meant a replacement was needed for him. And out of everyone available, they chose…Toru Yano – a New Japan lifer – to wrestle for NOAH. Sure, why not.

In my predictions for this show I mentioned how the show would’ve been better served having several big singles matches instead of so many tag matches. This was a great example of that. It would’ve been much better as a singles match between Suzuki and Sugiura since their longstanding history was the most entertaining part of the match. When other wrestlers were the legal men in the ring, Suzuki and Sugiura were at ringside beating the crap out of each other. And once both men tagged in they…beat the crap out of each other.

While the other four men were more than passable in what they did here, it was Suzuki and Sugiura that actually made this match meaningful. Suzuki’s reputation as a hard-hitter made Sugiura’s no-selling and comeback significant, especially after TAKA tagged in and tried to finish him off after Suzuki left Sugiura laying. But Sugiura overcame that in a great way and left people wanting more. I seriously hope that this show leads to more of these big interpromotional matches, because the seeds of another big match were clearly planted here.

Final Rating: **3/4

New Japan= 4; NOAH = 2

Match #8: Go Shiozaki and Masa Kitamiya [NOAH] defeated House of Torture (EVIL and Dick Togo) [NJPW]

On one hand, this was a bit disappointing both on paper and in practice. Shiozaki is a terrific wrestler and Kitamiya is like a cross between Masa Saito and Umaga in how he moves and hits. They were so good yet they were paired with EVIL and Togo, who take their ‘House of Torture’ name a bit too seriously by putting on terrible matches filled with never-ending run-ins, ref bumps, and cheap-shots.

On the other hand, Shiozaki and Kitamiya had a great comeback that was actually quite satisfying. Kitamiya ran through not only those two but also SHO and Yujiro, both of whom decided to interfere after the ref got (predictably) knocked out. Once he demolished them, he neutralized EVIL long enough for Shiozaki to channel his inner Kobashi (who was at ringside) and cleave Togo’s head off with a huge Burning Lariat. Both Shiozaki and Kitamiya would’ve definitely been better served wrestling someone else, but they made the best out of the hand they were dealt here.

Final Rating: **3/4

New Japan = 4; NOAH = 3

Match #9: Naomichi Marufuji and Yoshinari Ogawa [NOAH] defeated Suzuki-Gun (Zack Sabre, Jr. and Yoshinobu Kanemaru) [NJPW]

Finally, something great.

There was a lot more to this than the simple New Japan vs. NOAH narrative here. Ogawa and ZSJ were once tag team champions together and Marufuji has extensive history with Kanemaru from back when they were both junior heavyweights in NOAH. With all of those overlapping stories, expectations were high going into this. Thankfully they delivered.

While all four wrestlers displayed some great skill here, including a 55-year-old Ogawa who looks like he hasn’t aged in 25 years, the star of the match was ZSJ. He has this uncanny ability to move around so effortlessly and counter his opponents in the most creative ways. What’s more, he can take the simplest of holds and make it look like he’s going to tear his opponent’s limb off. That was on full display as he decimated Marufuji’s leg for a long time, and even managed to lock Ogawa in an abdominal stretch while Marufuji was still stuck in an Indian deathlock. The guy’s creativity isn’t just for show; everything he does has a purpose and actually adds to the match in a meaningful way.

The match did have some drawbacks, including another silly ref bump and Marufuji selling his leg inconsistently (some things never change). But otherwise this was the best match thus far by a wide margin.

Final Rating: ****

New Japan = 4; NOAH = 4

Match #10: Los Ignobernables de Japón (Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi, SANADA, Bushi and Hiromu Takahashi) defeated Kongoh (Katsuhiko Nakajima, Kenoh, Manabu Soya, Tadasuke and Aleja)

This match displayed the urgency and seriousness of the company vs. company feud more than any other thus far. It was about far more than ego and personal satisfaction; all the members of Kongoh (plus some additional members at ringside) did whatever they could to try and win. They rushed LIJ and used their numbers many times, and thus established themselves as the clear villains in this story. Kenoh in particular seemed to have something to prove as he hit Naito as hard as possible, only for Naito to return the favor soon after. It was great seeing all ten wrestlers putting victory at the forefront of what they did.

As for the wrestling itself, well, it was terrific. Even though it was filled with synchronized combination moves and a few high-spots, it was still grounded in a sense of realism and competition. All ten wrestlers were guilty of hitting high-speed explosive moves and a few silly no-sells, true. But they also did whatever they could do win. Pin-falls were broken up over and over. Counters were at times inventive while simplistic at others. Crazy combinations were needed because everyone had enough time to heal when not in the ring. There was chaos from bell to bell, but it never got to the point that the match became hard to follow.

Ten-man matches are usually big clusterf**ks, but that wasn’t the case here. This is easily one of the best matches ever to feature so many people in the ring for one match.

Final Rating: ****1/4

New Japan = 5; NOAH = 4

Match #11: Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Keiji Muto and Kaito Kiyomiya

This match went exactly as I predicted it would. With all due respect to Kiyomiya, he and Muto were no match for Tanahashi and Okada. There was a slim chance that the NOAH duo would win if Kiyomiya pulled a miracle out of his ass, but that chance disappeared once Okada became world champion. There was no way he was losing after that, no matter how strong Kiyomiya was or how many dropkicks, dragon screws, and Shining Wizards Muta landed.

That said, this was still great. Tanahashi and Okada teaming together was a sight to behold in itself, but the match was very much the Kiyomiya story. He was in a unique position because he had to carry the load for himself and Muto. And while Muto did WAY more than I expected he would here, there was no way he could do enough damage at his age to keep both Tanahashi and Okada. Even if him countering a Rainmaker with a Shining Wizard was nothing short of awesome.

The match was equal parts fun and equal parts serious. Kitomiya was in the position Okada once found himself in: he was the young kid with something to prove against two of the best wrestlers alive. But the seriousness of that storyline stood side-by-side with the more cheerful ‘dream match-up’ nature involving Muto. Okada was grinning ear-to-ear when he tagged in, and Tanahashi had a way-better-than-expected battle with his teacher. There were also some fun little subtleties sprinkled throughout the match as well, such as Okada using Muto’s own taunt or Muto staring at Masahiro Chono as he had Okada locked in an STF.

Ultimately, this ended up being Kiyomiya’s coming out party. He fought like hell against two amazing wrestlers, and nearly had the match won as Muto willed him on. And in a delightful callback to Okada’s Wrestle Kingdom 9 post-match breakdown Kiyomiya got emotional for thinking he let NOAH down. It made him into a sympathetic underdog just as much as everything else he did in the match.

But if there’s one thing that New Japan is great at (or at least, was good at until 2020), it’s long-term storytelling. If they manage to bring that same magic to this storyline, then you can be sure that Okada and Kiyomiya will meet once again down the road.

Final Rating: ****1/2

New Japan = 6; NOAH = 4; New Japan wins the interpromotional battle!

Overall Show Rating: 6.5/10

Even though the show ended with three great matches, it was such an odyssey getting there. The undercard was filled with matches ranging from passable to downright underwhelming. Nothing of note happened until the Shiozaki/Kitamiya match, but even that was disappointing. If you’re looking for great wrestling, ¾ of this card can be skipped because it didn’t really have any.

I really do hope this isn’t the end of the New Japan/NOAH crossover. Not only are there some tremendous dream matches that could still happen, but this show teased so many that just might. The two rookies in the opener looked like they wanted to kill each other. Ishimori didn’t get his chance to shine against the NOAH juniors. Marufuji completed his story with Kanemaru but it looked like there was still unfinished business between him and ZSJ. Kenou left the ten-man tag match wanting to rip Naito apart and Nakajima wanted to do the same to Takagi. Lastly, history repeated itself with the ending of the main event with the Kiyomiya of 2022 playing the role of the Okada of 2015 to a T.

Though the bookers of this show clearly suggested there’s more to come, they really could’ve done more to showcase what both brands had to offer in more than just three memorable matches.

Thanks for reading. You can reach me at 9atp1@queensu.ca for any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my regular 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.