In last week’s newsletter we discussed some Tokyo Dome related topics, namely whether AJ Styles would be fit to work the Tokyo Dome show, and the outcome of the 2015 World Tag League Final. The complete January 4th card was subsequently announced, and briefly run-down in last week’s newsletter. The top two matches will likely determine just how well the show draws, and have been known for the past several months – Kazuchika Okada versus Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, and AJ Styles versus Shinsuke Nakamura for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.
Okada and Tanahashi will headline the show for the third time, and the second consecutive year, in what may be the conclusion, at least in this iteration, to what has been New Japan’s premier programme since 2012. Okada has to win, and there are few, if any, ways of getting around this. Last year he was left broken and sobbing after failing to tear the title from the grasp Tanahashi, and has yet to defeat Tanahashi at the Tokyo Dome. Despite this apparent certainty of an Okada victory the match will, with perhaps the same degree of certainty, stand as one of the best matches of 2016, at least for admirers of the style.
Whether Okada-Tanahashi was the right choice business-wise is a more difficult question. New Japan isn’t on a particularly hot streak at present, although they haven’t seen significant dips over recent years. Some of their more ambitious projects, such as the extensive touring schedule of this year’s G1 and prolonged run in Tokyo, demonstrated that whilst New Japan is in a far better place than it was in 2012, they may still be at least a few levels below selling out the Tokyo Dome. In fact the second Dome match between Okada and Tanahashi last year set a modern New Japan attendance record of over 30,000, a number seemingly unattainable by any other non-WWE wrestling promotion. Whether Tanahashi-Okada is a rivalry that has exhausted its staying power remains to be seen.
A related question, particularly important when questioning the booking of the main event, is whether there exists a larger marquee match than Okada-Tanahashi in 2016? They couldn’t return Nakamura-Tanahashi after the finals of the G1 Climax but a few months ago – and regardless, they have been largely inconsistent together. Styles and Okada is a feud already long exhausted, and whilst Nakamura-Okada would have been viable, a Dome match between the two should perhaps be saved for when their budding rivalry has reached full maturity – 2017, perhaps. Of the remaining possibilities, Shibata is just a strong a working candidate as any, but he has been criminally underutilised for years, and thus doesn’t have the perceived star power at present. Ibushi could have been a quality choice, but was injured. By process of elimination this leaves Tanahashi and Okada as one of the more reasonable choices. Is the absence of quality options a fault of New Japan? This is a topic worthy of its own article.
Far less controversial is the semi-main-event, AJ Styles challenging Shinsuke Nakamura for the IWGP Intercontinental Champion – a bout that generated discussion of a different sort, mostly revolving around Styles’ apparent back injury. Thankfully for Styles’ health and short term career trajectory, in an interview conducted with ‘The Two Man Power Trip Radio Show’, Styles made the following statement:
As far as right now I definitely plan on doing both events. I’ve just been rehabbing a little bit on the back, I don’t know if it’s a slipped disc or a herniated disc it was very minimal, which is good. The Doctor says it looks like it mostly seems like it is muscle so basically that’s just rehabbing that and I am feeling pretty good. I just got into DDPY. [Diamond Dallas Page] doesn’t like it being called yoga. It is a little bit different and man, this thing has done wonders for me and everyday you do DDPY and you get your heart rate up to 150 just stretching and it’s just awesome.
If this is accurate, and I have no reason to suspect that Styles would conceal an injury, especially given his lack of immediate WWE plans, then DDP Yoga may have very well saved the co-main event of the Tokyo Dome! More realistically, however, Styles’ injury may not have been as serious as first suspected. With Styles’ work ethic and desire for a “WrestleKingdom moment”, if the Nakamura of 2015 or 2013 shimmies into the Dome come January 4th we are probably in for another Nakamura Dome classic.
Beneath the two major singles championship matches, and everything else on the card, is the New Japan Rumble (known colloquially as ‘The New Japan Rambo’) on the pre-show – a budding annual tradition aimed at getting everyone on the card. Unfortunately, as was the case in 2015, Yuji Nagata, a terribly misused talent, will be in the match once more in what may become the annual Yuji Nagata appreciation match. The charm of last year’s Rambo came mostly from the eclectic assortment of surprise stars who appeared out of the void – Great Kabuki and Yoshiaki Fujiwara, most notably. But, the majority of The Rambo’s will be undercard talent, and if they decide to bring the same 2015 set of old fellows out, the match will lose most if its lustre.
Padding the undercard will be Tama Tonga, Yujiro Takahashi & Bad Luck versus Toru Yano & two mystery partners. They did a similar gimmick last year, and TMDK was brought in to tag with Yano. With NJPW’s financial support of NOAH there is a significant pool of talent to chose from – with Marufuji and Takashi Sugiura, or TMDK the most likely candidates. The standard fun albeit largely forgettable multi-team Junior Tag Title match was also announced, with The Young Bucks, reDragon, RPG Vive, and Matt Sydal & Ricochet as the featured teams this year. Juniors matches generally don’t get over as well in the Dome as in other venues, although this has changed over recent years, in large part due to the Low Ki/Devitt/Ibushi three-way, which was a show highlight on what was one of the best shows in recent memory back in 2013.
The remainder of the card is essentially filler-less with Jay Lethal, assuming he retains the ROH World Title at Final Battle, defending against Michael Elgin, in a match which will likely receive less time but louder reactions than it would at an ROH show, simply due to Elgin’s Japanese appeal.
KUSHIDA will challenge Kenny Omega for the Junior Heavyweight Title, in a match he has to win if I am to make even vague sense of the logic of taking the title off of him in the first place. Both matches should be fantastic sans aforementioned Junior Dome Blues.
In the annual glimmer of hope for the Tag Team Division, Gallows & Anderson will probably drop the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Titles to World Tag League winners, Tomoaki Honma and Togi Makabe. My expectations for the match itself are low, but hopefully with the titles off of Guns & Gallows rehabilitation of the Tag Division will commence – or, perhaps, nothing will come of it, as seems to be the case every year.
Tetsuya Naito and Hirooki Goto will have a special singles match, which may, unfortunately, be dragged down by Los Ingobernables wackiness. If it isn’t, Naito’s unique heel heat and gimmick may make for a sneaky contender for match of the night.
NEVER Champion, Tomohiro Ishii, will fight Katsuyori Shibata on the upper card in what should be a very good match. It must be noted, however, that Shibata and Ishii seemed to have peaked in their first match back at the 2013 G1, and in every subsequent iteration have climbed a wrung or two higher on the no selling and stiffness ladder whilst failing to recapture what made their first match so special. Hopefully, with the aid of the Dome atmosphere Ishii and Shibata will rekindle their magic from night four of the 2013 G1 in Osaka.
With the lack of filler on the undercard, and high match quality potential from the top six or so matches, the 2016 Tokyo Dome may ensure NJPW another show of the year award. Whether the company, main and co-main event are hot enough to outdraw WrestleKingdom 9’s 30,000+ , remains to be determined.
Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if Suzuki pops up at the end of the show.