This is the official Fight Game Media NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 16 Roundtable, where we’ve gathered our writers and asked their thoughts about the matches set for New Japan’s marquee event. Our panel members include Fight Game’s own Steven Conway, Scott Edwards, Jeremy Finestone, Jeremy Peeples, C.J. Tappin, plus NJPW English broadcast statistician and founder of Sport of Pro Wrestling, Chris Samsa.
Pre-Show: New Japan RANBO (Final four advance to KOPW 2022 four-way on Night 2)
Jeremy Finestone: Based on cards I’ve seen in the run-up , I’d expect Yuji Nagata, Chase Owens, Yano, Kanemaru, and maybe Suzuki to maybe be involved in some fashion.
Jeremy Peeples: Suzuki showing up would be a nice surprise and a win for him in Tokyo Dome feels fitting, but this feels like a waste of his talents—although he could make a KOPW title match interesting even with goofy stipulations intact.
1) YOH vs. SHO
Steven Conway: The entire story of YOH in the BOSJ tournament was his rise from the ashes. I don’t see them cutting it off here, especially after his epic loss to Hiromu Takahashi in the tournament finals. After playing SHO’s victim nearly every step of the way since the split, I think this is going to be YOH’s time for redemption.
Scott Edwards: As someone who believes that both of these guys are great and will be future IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champions in the near future, I think the move here should see SHO getting the win and moving on to challenge either El Desperado or Hiromu Takahashi for the title. The story should be YOH taking the title from SHO when the time comes.
C.J. Tappin: YOH got his big win over SHO in the Best of The Super Junior tournament, so you’ve got to think SHO will be extra motivated to land in the win column here. With a full roster booked on the card, I’ve got to imagine SHO has all of his tools available, and he’ll make good use of them.
2) Hiroshi Tanahashi, Rocky Romero & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. El Phantasmo, KENTA & Taiji Ishimori
SC: If YOH wins, this could be where Bullet Club gets back in the win column. They are pushing the El Phantasmo boot gimmick hard, and a six-man is a good place to put it over again. It’s likely to be thwarted down the road in a singles match. Plus, this feels like KENTA getting a win going into the big singles match with Tanahashi on night two.
SE: Feels like a Bullet Club type of night here. Seeing they are in the same faction, it feels that should bring them to a win with Taiji Ishimori potentially pinning Ryusuke Taguchi for the win. With a No DQ match coming for KENTA and Tanahashi, it will be interesting to see how their interactions are.
3) BUSHI, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito vs. Great-O-Khan, Jeff Cobb & Will Ospreay
SE: Will Ospreay makes his traditional in-ring return to NJPW in this match and should be the advantage the United Empire needs to get the win over their night two opponents. It’s crazy how little we have seen a full-form United Empire but Ospreay, Jeff Cobb, and Great-O-Khan form a tremendous trio that seeing what the other two have accomplished as well this year.
Chris Samsa, Sport of Pro Wrestling: Great-O-Khan, Jeff Cobb & Will Ospreay are 17–1 when teaming together as a trio in 2021. Ospreay returning to Japan for the first time in seven months paired with their previous dominance certainly makes The United Empire team the heavy favorite.
4) Katsuyori Shibata vs. “X” (Catch Wrestling rules)
JF: If Shibata is going to have an actual wrestling match at some point, the gloves are going to have to come off like ripping a band-aid. The no-striking rule seems tailor-made for someone like Suzuki challenging and defying the decree, opening the way potentially to Shibata having less restrictions on his matches organically within the ring. What a time to be alive. This is all leading to a KENTA vs. Shibata match one day.
JP: If Suzuki isn’t in the RANBO, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in this match. He can work this style and make it exciting on a large scale while also keeping Shibata safe. Ren Narita is another likely candidate and would be far better than Suzuki in terms of using Shibata’s return to build the future and use the match as a bridge between Shibata the wrestler and Shibata the coach. He will do all he can to make this great within the framework of the rules and no matter who he faces, Shibata should go over.
CS: I can certainly understand some disappointment that Katsuyori Shibata is returning to the cerulean blue of the NJPW ring wrestling in a match that doesn’t allow strikes but seeing him get into the ring after four-and-a-half long years away will be a treat either way. Obviously, whomever “X” is will be very important in the result and what proceeds it, and I while can’t speculate on that, I think there’s a chance this match stipulation comes into play to build towards the future, and I’m curious to see if Shibata’s opponent sneaks in a strike or two.
5) NEVER Openweight Championship: Tomohiro Ishii [c] vs. EVIL
SE: I’m one of few that don’t dislike the House of Torture-styled match. EVIL has all the makings to be the main eventer that puts on the best match possible but all he cares about is winning. Tomohiro Ishii was able to dethrone Jay White of all people to win the NEVER Openweight Championship. The quiet confidence means Ishii has something up his sleeve to keep House of Torture out of the picture.
JF: I would like to see Ishii retain and I believe he will. He has a lot of mileage left with this reign and plenty of challengers since winning it seven weeks ago. EVIL’s antics and distractions won’t be enough to survive Ishii’s continued brutal barrage and unstoppable mentality.
CS: Tomohiro Ishii is 0–3 in Wrestle Kingdom singles matches and he will definitely have the crowd pulling for him as he defends his NEVER Openweight championship against EVIL. Ishii was 9–0 against EVIL prior to this year’s Summer Struggle tour when EVIL finally defeated Ishii in Nagoya. This one is a true toss-up. Ishii and EVIL both consistently lose on the biggest stages, which means this one could go either way.
6) IWGP Heavyweight Tag Championships: Dangerous Tekkers (Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr.) [c] vs. Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI
SC: This really could go either way. They have treated YOSHI-HASHI with some care this past year, making him part of a long NEVER Openweight Six-Man title team with Goto and Ishii. Tekkers have been protected as well. If Sabre and Taichi weren’t talking so much about how the challengers aren’t on their level, I’d feel more comfortable saying they’ll retain. The underdog who “can’t” win makes it feel ripe for an upset.
SE: It’s incredibly foolish on behalf of Dangerous Tekkers. Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI have become one of the most formidable combinations in the world, let alone NJPW. Their NEVER Six-Man Championship reign was history-making for a reason and they have a great chance to walk out of Wrestle Kingdom 16 as the new IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions.
7) IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: El Desperado [c] vs. Hiromu Takahashi
SE: Anytime that El Desperado and Hiromu Takahashi oppose each other inside a professional wrestling ring, magic follows. My expectations here are as high as ever for an IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship match and their determination to have the best match on the show shouldn’t be overlooked. Their BOSJ battle was one of the best in the division all year and they will have a top-three match when Wrestle Kingdom is complete.
JP: Hiromu is one of the best wrestlers in the world and his mission to main event the Tokyo Dome will hopefully happen in 2022. Desperado very much feels like someone who is keeping the title warm for Hiromu, and while I don’t expect to see him win, I do expect him to have the best match of his career in the semi-main event slot.
CS: El Desperado and Hiromu Takahashi are amid what could be their generational rivalry and they’ve made it clear that they’re out to have the match of the night. Many are assuming this year is a rinse-and-repeat for Hiromu with this year’s Best of The Super Junior tournament and Wrestle Kingdom ending with a tournament victory and with Hiromu as champion, but I can’t rule out El Desperado. The Suzuki-Gun junior, El Desperado, is seeing an incredible rise in popularity and NJPW could have another top-of-the-card junior on their hands if he can come out on top in the Tokyo Dome on January 4.
8) IWGP World Heavyweight Championship: Shingo Takagi [c] vs. Kazuchika Okada
SC: Whoever wins, this should be a brilliant match. While Takagi has unfinished business with Ospreay, it’s business that could be handled down the road. It’s difficult to picture NJPW running a night at the Tokyo Dome without its trusted big-match performer, Okada. These two were kept apart in the G1 to clear the way for Okada to get the win back. Combined that with the fact the loser doesn’t have a spot on the card for Night 2, and I’m feeling an Okada win in the Dominion rematch.
SE: The return of “The Rainmaker” isn’t something that should be overlooked here. The G1 Climax run of Kazuchika Okada saw the return of the man who many deemed the best wrestler in the entire world four years ago. Okada is determined more than ever to rise to the top of NJPW once again and bring balance back to the promotion that he loves. Shingo Takagi was amazing in 2021 but this is “The Rainmaker’s” time yet again.
CS: Shingo Takagi’s run as IWGP World Heavyweight Champion has produced some of the most exciting wrestling matches that I’ve ever seen because Shingo’s title reign was never supposed to happen. That also means it could end at any moment and all signs are pointing to January 4th being the time. This Wrestle Kingdom victory won’t necessarily be Kazuchika Okada’s crowning moment, but as NJPW steps into their 50th Anniversary Year, the familiar feeling of The Rainmaker walking around as champion is a warm embrace that I’m ready for.