NJPW WrestleKingdom 16 Tokyo Dome
Wrestle Kingdom. For fans across the globe, it is one of the most anticipated events of the year. For competitors, it is the stage they have worked for, leaving their heart and soul behind in wrestling rings across the previous year, striving for the moment where they get to show their greatness on the most important event of their career. For the world at large, this is the moment that the countdown clock has been ticking down to, the time capsule that will forever record the greatest victories and the most important battles of the year before resetting itself for another journey back to The Tokyo Dome.
The Tokyo Dome itself is as important as any competitor on the Wrestle Kingdom stage. One of the most infamous destination venues in all of professional wrestling, it has housed countless legendary moments. From Ric Flair's battle with Tatsumi Fujinami back in 1991 to Sting and The Great Muta teaming for the first time to Antonio Inoki's final match to the retirement of Jushin "Thunder" Liger, The Tokyo Dome will forever stand witness to some of the most majestic and emotional moments in the history of combat sports.
This year, New Japan Pro Wrestling will once again transform Wrestle Kingdom 16 into a multi-day event with FITE broadcasting all the action from Tokyo to devices and screens across the globe on both January 4th and January 5th. As NJPW proudly returns to its most famous battlefield, the sport's greatest athletes will once again clash, seeking to breathe the rarified air of victory, placing themselves in the hallowed halls of immortality in the process.
As always, the most prestigious championships will be on the line for FITE viewers across the world.
THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE: THE IWGP WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
There can only be one Ace in New Japan Pro Wrestling, the competitor that stands atop the pyramid as the most important competitor in NJPW, the face of New Japan's global excursion. As we enter this year's Wrestle Kingdom events, there are not one but three men who lay claim to being the best professional wrestler in the entire world and by the time Wrestle Kingdom Night Two concludes, FITE fans will have a conclusive answer as to who that man truly, absolutely is.
Shingo Takagi walks onto the Wrestle Kingdom battlefield as the recognized reigning and defending IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, defeating the legendary Kazuchika Okada back at the June 2021 Dominion event. Since that time, Takagi has crushed all competition, becoming the longest reigning IWGP World Heavyweight Champion since that title was activated.
For Takagi, Wrestle Kingdom will present the biggest challenge for his championship reign to date. Okada, seeking redemption, went through the grueling G-1 Climax tournament with a near flawless 9-1 record in pursuit of victory and capturing a guaranteed championship match at Wrestle Kingdom. For Okada, who exemplifies what NJPW is for many current day international fans, this year's event represents his moment to return as King of the Mountain for New Japan Pro Wrestling and to once again become the Ace.
No matter who emerges victorious on January 4th, a dark shadow already looms over Takagi and Okada alike in the form of Will Ospreay. Ospreay, who previously held the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, has long complained and pronounced that he is the true champion, as he never, ever lost his title inside the ring. Instead, his title reign came to an end when Ospreay, injured at the time, was stripped of his title in May 2021, setting the stage for Takagi's championship win. Since returning to the ring, Ospreay has declared there are no other worthy claims to being the true champion and that he carries the true IWGP World Heavyweight Championship belt. On January 5th, Ospreay will take to battle against the winner of the January 4th IWGP World Heavyweight Championship battle.
When Wrestle Kingdom 16 concludes on FITE, the true Champion will have emerged, setting the trajectory for the entire world of New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2022 and beyond.
While the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship will be on the line both nights of Wrestle Kingdom 16, New Japan's most renowned championships will be at stake each night:
CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLES - JANUARY 4TH
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion El Desperado, currently in the midst of the greatest year of his career, will face former champion Hiromu Takahashi on January 4th. These competitors are no stranger to the other, having battled to a classic 30 minute draw during the Best of Super Juniors 28, leading to each declaring they would battle to the finals to face off one more time without the restraint of a time limit. Unfortunately for these competitors and the fans, it didn't happen as Desperado didn't make it to the finals, with Hiromu instead capturing the tournament. Now, the stage is set for the much anticipated rematch with the championship on the line. For Takashi, this match not only represents a chance to win his fifth Junior Heavyweight Championship but also a chance to prove once and for all that he, not Desperado, is the better man. For the defending champion, Wrestle Kingdom represents the biggest stage of his career and a chance to prove that it's one he'll stand upon for many years to come.
The Dangerous Tekkers, IWGP Tag Team Champions Zack Sabre Jr. and Taichi will defend their gold against the challengers, the World Tag League 2021 victors Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASE. While Sabre and Taichi have held the championships since Wrestle Grand Slam back in July, they have already suffered a loss during the World Tag League to Goto and HASE, putting those veterans in the pole position leading into this championship clash. Wrestle Kingdom history also haunts the champions as the IWGP Tag Team Championships are rarely retained. During one of the most emotional weeks of the year, if Sabre and Taichi seek to remain champions, they will have to use all of their swagger and arrogance combined in order to overcome the onslaught of the NJPW veterans.
The NEVER Openweight Championship remains one of the most hard-fought yet haphazard championship belts anywhere in the professional wrestling world. It is a badge of honor to hold the title but it also remains an elusive, unique championship known for the hard-hitting brutality that comes with its title matches. Tomohiro Ishii, the Stone Cold Pitbull, is in the midst of his sixth championship reign, will take to the squared circle at Wrestle Kingdom against EVIL, a fierce competitor whose ring name is truly equal to his depraved nature. If there is one bout guaranteed to be gritty and violent across the Wrestle Kingdom cosmos this year, it is Ishii vs. EVIL.
CHAMPIONSHIP CLASHES - JANUARY 5th
If there is a competitor who represents the heart and soul of the fighting spirit of New Japan Pro Wrestling, it is surely Hiroshi Tanahashi, who has carried the banner of the promotion for many years as fans have lived through his emotional highs and lows. One of those most crushing blows to Tanahashi's fans in recent months was his IWGP United States Championship loss to the brutal KENTA this past November. Now, at Wrestle Kingdom, Tanahashi is seeking redemption and revenge by challenging for the belt he once proudly called his own.
To ensure a joyous January, Tanahashi will have to somehow surpass the bitter KENTA, who has redeemed his own career since migrating to NJPW from WWE, destroying countless opponents with the GTS. Having once again found himself as a competitor, KENTA is seeking to leave a path of destruction all through 2022, starting by decimating Tanahashi's championship dreams on the greatest stage possible - before FITE viewers worldwide. The odds may indeed favor the defending champion, who has set a no disqualification stipulation, placing the in-ring technical excellence of Tanahashi on defense before the bell even rings. This championship brawl will be previewed on January 4th when Tanahahi, as part of Team NJPW Hontai battle Bullet Club, including KENTA.
The IWGP Junior Heavyweight division has always set the bar for the best, futuristic combat inside the squared circle and the opening match for Wrestle Kingdom Night Two will be no exception as the Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship will be on stage with three incredible teams clashing inside the squared circle. Tiger Mask and Robbie Eagles have forged an indelible championship combination but will face their greatest competition yet inside the Tokyo Dome. The Mega Coaches, Rocky Romero and Rysuke Taguchi have fostered and unleashed some of the greatest competitors in NJPW history but at Wrestle Kingdom, they step back into the spotlight, seeking a new championship accolade of their own. Of course, the shadow of The Bullet Club seeks to ruin everyone's championship dream and create their own nightmarish reality as El Phantasmo and Taiji Ishimori look to kick off the year with their own title victory. After the banner year Phantasmo has had in 2021, nothing would make him happier than continuing to rain on the parade of everyone in his path. This bout will set the stage for Wrestle Kingdom Night Two and its ripple effects will be felt in the Junior Heavyweight Division and beyond long into 2022.
The chaotic existence of the NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championship will have another chapter carved into its history book during Wrestle Kingdom 16 as well. The House of Torture - Evil & SHO & Yujiro Takahashi will battle CHAOS' YOH, Hirokki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI will clash on January 5th, guaranteeing that the blood feud between SHO and YOH will not end during Night One and that FITE fans will stand witness to yet another unbridled war for the unpredictable Six Man Tag Team division.
As noted above, Wrestle Kingdom at the Tokyo Dome has long been the epicenter of some of the most emotional and special moments in New Japan Pro Wrestling history. It has also seen explosive moments that forever change careers and lives unfold before the eyes of fans across the world. This year will be no different.
On January 4th during night one, perhaps one of the most important and special moments in NJPW history will go down as the beloved Katsuyori Shibata finally, officially returns to official in-ring competition. Back in 2017, Shibata suffered a bad injury to his head and was believed to never be able to return to combat sports as a cleared competitor. Since that time, he has become a renowned coach and shocked the world earlier this year by taking part in an exhibition bout. When Shibata announced his official return for Wrestle Kingdom, the collective wrestling world exhaled with happiness, awaiting his return to see what Shibata in 2022 brings to active competition.
On the other side of the emotional spectrum, the January 4th clash between the former Roppongi 3K members, YOH and SHO will be anything but celebratory. When SHO attacked his former partner back in August, unceremoniously destroying their championship alliance, it sparked a new war within New Japan Pro Wrestling that broke the hearts of fans worldwide. With YOH seeking to avenge SHO's attack and wanting to put the past behind him once and for all, FITE fans are all but guaranteed a brutal, emotional clash.
If there is one foreign talent who has ascended to the throne of excellence in 2021 within New Japan Pro Wrestling, it is certainly former Olympian Jeff Cobb. On January 5th, Cobb seeks to impose his will once again, battling Tetsuya Naito, the leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon. Cobb, representing the United Empire, seeks to erase his loss earlier this year to Naito. Already enraged to the point that he attacked and left Naito beaten backstage, Cobb wants to prove his dominance on the Tokyo Dome stage. Naito, however, looks to prove once again that he's better than Cobb and that LIJ is far more dangerous of an alliance than the United Empire could ever hope to be. Naito will return to the scene of some of his most famous crimes at Wrestle Kingdom, seeking to deflect and destroy Cobb's own criminal conduct.
All of this and more is set across the spectrum of Wrestle Kingdom 16, live from the Tokyo Dome in Japan, exclusively for FITE viewers!
Mike Johnson is the lead reporter for PWInsider.com and has been writing about professional wrestling since 1996. He can be found on Twitter @MikePWInsider and MikeJohnsonWrites.com.