Thursday, January 6, 2022

NJPW WrestleKingdom 16, Night 2 Review: Okada and Ospreay Tear the House Down

Well, WrestleKingdom 16 Night 2 was a slight step up from Night 1.  As with Night 1 it felt overall like just another New Japan PPV (great main event, one or two other very good matches, the rest skippable), but unlike Night 1 it featured a Match of the Year shortlist candidate and nothing offensive.

This show strangely had three pre-show bouts, but things kicked off in earnest with the Jr. Heavyweight Tag Titles, as Robbie Eagles & Tiger Mask defended against El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori, and Rocky Romero & Ryusuke Taguchi.  This was a lighter echo of the Jr. Tag 4-ways of old, with fast, nonstop action and loads of quick tags.  But things took a turn for the stupid when the babyfaces ganged up on El Phantasmo and took off his shoe to reveal the metal plate he's been using for months to win matches.  Nevermind that a plate sculpted around a person's heel, inside a padded boot, would hurt the wearer more than anyone he happened to kick with it.  The referee was appalled and disqualified ELP and Ishimori, leaving the two babyface teams to finish the bout.  Eagles put Romero in the Ron Miller special (a pretty not-painful-looking leglock) for the tapout win.  This was hurt by the dumb North American wrestling tropes.  **1/2

Next up was the featured Stardom match, as Mayu Iwatani & Starlight Kid faced Tam Nakano & Saya Kamitani.  This was nine minutes of wildly quick action that blew away the previous match.  Highlights included Starlight diving off Iwatani's shoulders for a cross-body as the latter stood on the second rope, numerous dives to the outside, a sequence where each woman tried to pin an opponent with a rollup, and finally Kamitani hitting a crisp Phoenix Splash on Starlight for the win.  A very fun undercard match that gave everyone time to shine.  ***1/2
The match I was dreading was next, as the 2022 King of Pro Wrestling title found its initial recipient, among Toru Yano, Chase Owens, Minoru Suzuki and Cima.  Fortunately Suzuki and Cima were able to carry the load and this match didn't go very long at all.  There was a fun sequence where Cima put Yano in an Indian Deathlock and then suplexed Chase Owens while still in the hold.  He then traded strikes with Suzuki and every time Suzuki knocked him down it put torque on Yano's legs.  Suzuki then put him in a choke and Owens put Suzuki in a choke.  Suzuki finally hit a Gotch piledriver on Yano to win the trophy.  Post-match he tried to choke Yano out, but Yano handcuffed him to the top rope to escape.  This was inoffensive, though I'd rather see Suzuki vs. Cima one-on-one.  **1/4

The worst match of the night once again involved Evil (seriously, either put him back with LIJ or get him off my TV), as he, Sho and Yujiro Takahashi defended the meaningless six-man belts against Hirooki Goto, Yoshi-Hashi and Yoh.  This match was entirely forgettable and loaded with dumb interference.  Togo choked Yoh with a wire, Ishii ran in to chase him away, Sho hit Yoh with a wrench for the cheap pin.  You'd think wrestlers as skilled as Evil and Sho would be bored doing these nothing nWo-style matches.  I'm honestly not sure what segment of the audience this House of Torture shit is meant to appeal to.  *3/4

The final four bouts were all good at worst, starting with Sanada vs. The Great O-Khan in a skill vs. power battle.  O-Khan tried to control the match with power but found himself playing Sanada's game more, doing a dive to the outside and a moonsault.  They had an interesting exchange where neither could hit a Mongolian chop because the other guy kept blocking it.  After recovering from O-Khan's moonsault, Sanada won in twelve minutes with an O'Connor roll.  This was solid.  ***1/2

The first four-star match was next as Tetsuya Naito faced Jeff Cobb.  This felt more like a G1 undercard bout than a Tokyo Dome third-from-last outing, but it was pretty excellent nonetheless.  Cobb overpowered Naito for a while but Naito went after Cobb's knee to even things out.  Cobb did a great suplex spot on the outside where he lifted Naito up vertically and bumped him into the post a couple times before hitting the suplex.  Naito worked over the knee some more, locking in his shortleg scissor and hitting multiple dropkicks to Cobb's leg.  Cobb countered a top rope hurricanrana with an explosive second-rope powerbomb that even knocked down the referee.  Cobb hit a lariat and went for Tour of the Islands but his knee gave out and Naito countered with a Destino for the win.  Damn good stuff, though I'd have liked to see Cobb get the big Dome win.  ****

The semi-main slot went to the Kenta-Hiroshi Tanahashi US Title match, which I'd forgotten was No DQ.  This started out rather pedestrian but built to some remarkable brutality, some of it accidental.  They used kendo sticks to start, followed by trash cans, chairs, and Kenta's briefcase.  Tanahashi set up a table on the outside but couldn't suplex Kenta through it.  Instead he set up a pile of chairs and hit a slingblade on it, followed by a missed High Fly Flow that looked brutal.  Kenta propped Tana in the corner and covered him with chairs, and hit a delayed dropkick through them.  Tana came back after a Twist and Shout onto the chairs, but Kenta did a top-rope Falcon Arrow through a table Tana had set up in the ring.  Kenta set up a 12-foot ladder and a table inside the ring and went for a dive but Tana got up and shook the ladder, sending Kenta crashing face-first into a trash can, bloodying his nose and swelling up his eye.  Tana put Kenta on the table and hit an insane High Fly Flow off the top of the ladder for the pin.  I wasn't excited about this match in the early going but these two sacrificed a lot to make it stand out by the end.  Pretty great semi-main event.  ****1/4

Finally with the Night 2 main event we were treated to an all-time great match.  Okada-Shingo on January 4th was fantastic, but to me it didn't quite feel worthy of the main event of a WrestleKingdom show.  But Okada vs. Will Ospreay delivered that unforgettable main event we've all come to expect from the Dome.  They went 33 minutes that felt like 20, starting off slow with some chain wrestling, ramping up to big moves and bigger reversals, like Ospreay blocking Okada's corner dropkick, propping him on the top rope, and chopping him to the floor, or Ospreay countering Okada's barricade dive with a thrust kick to the chest.  Ospreay then climbed a lighting truss and hit a breathtaking moonsault to the floor.  Okada countered an outside dive by catching Ospreay and Tombstoning him on the floor.  They had a dazzling sequence of counters where Ospreay ducked a Rainmaker, got his own move countered, and then caught Okada midair during a dropkick attempt, powerbombing him for a nearfall.  Okada later hit Ospreay with his own Stormbreaker, but his next Rainmaker attempt was countered into a Spanish Fly.  Ospreay hit a series of short-arm clotheslines and a top-rope Oscutter.  Okada locked in the Money Clip but Ospreay made the ropes and hit the Rainmaker.  They traded strikes that echoed through the stadium, Ospreay hit the Hidden Blade for a nearfall, but walked into an Okada dropkick.  Okada hit the landslide and another Rainmaker to win the match and retain the title.  Post-match Okada cut a promo but was interrupted by Naito, who challenged him to a future match to celebrate NJPW's 50th anniversary.  Simply a superb, classic main event, and the first lasting Match of the Year candidate.  *****

So as I said, Night 2 still didn't feel like a WrestleKingdom show, and I think these two nights should've been combined into one stacked lineup.  But where Night 1 had a lot of filler and just missed that one match that absolutely blew me away, this show provided that moment of transcendence I want from a WK.  The first four or five bouts are fairly skippable but the final three delivered big.  Go far out of your way to watch Okada vs. Ospreay.

Best Match: Okada vs. Ospreay
Worst Match: House of Torture (what an appropriate name for this stable) vs. Chaos
What I'd Change: Get rid of the loaded boot crap in the opener and focus on a blowaway opener, give Jeff Cobb a big win.
Most Disappointing Match: The Jr. Tag
Most Pleasant Surprise: The US Title match
Overall Rating: 8.5/10

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