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Hawke’s Top 20 NJPW Matches from 2016

December 27, 2016 | Posted by TJ Hawke

NJPW’s booking over the last three years has soured me on much of the product. As a result, I did not expect to make a year-end list for them. However, I went back and dug deep to discover there were far more enjoyable matches produced by them than my memory was giving them credit for promoting. With that in mind, here are my favorite 20 NJPW matches from 2016.


20. Kazuchika Okada vs. Naomichi Marufuji – 10/10/2016

19. Volador Jr. vs. Ricochet – 6/5/2016

18. Yuji Nagata vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima – 7/30/2016

17. Katsuyori Shibata vs. EVIL – 8/13/2016

16. Gedo vs. David Finlay – 5/29/2016


This was a 2016 Best of the Super Juniors match.

Oh, this was so much fun. Gedo was being a rovert-level troll, and he spent almost the entire match bantering the young boy into submission. Finlay did all he could to survived and then managed to catch Rocky with a fruit roll-up. This was exactly what a midcard BOSJ match needs to be: FUN! (***1/4)


15. Volador Jr. vs. Will Ospreay – 6/6/2016


This was a 2016 Best of the Super Juniors match.

They guys do the flips well. They proved to have good chemistry, and they spaced out everything quite well. This was the exact kind of match you want from the BOSJ. They don’t do too much or go too long, but they do enough to keep you and the crowd invested. Volador is an excellent fit in NJPW. He tragically lost here though after Billy hit the ThugBait. (***1/4)


14. Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Tomohiro Ishii – 7/18/2016


This was a 2016 G1 Climax match.

The story of Kojima giving up his G1 spot to Tenzan because it might be the last G1 for “Mr. G1” was a stroke of storyline genius that has been desperately missing from NJPW. It has added so much emotion to every single one of his matches automatically that you cannot help but be invested in just about all of them.

The benefits were immediately clear in his first G1 match. For starters, it actually forced Ishii to work heel which he is FAR superior at than working babyface or 50/50 tough guy. More importantly though, every piece of offense from Tenzan carried more weight because his journey this year truly feels special. You want everything works out for him right now. It’s truly sweet.

Now, Tenzan is still pretty immobile and broken obviously. As long as he continues to tap into pathos of the situation though, he should be able to consistently produce good matches in the tournament. Tenzan eventually finished Ishii with the moonsault here. (***1/4)


13. Go Shiozaki, Katsuhiko Nakajima, Masa Kitamiya, & Maybach Taniguchi vs. Yuji Nagata, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, & Manabu Nakanishi – 10/10/2016

12. Will Ospreay vs. KUSHIDA – 4/11/2016


This was for KUSHIDA’s IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.

This was a fun midcard match. KUSHIDA went after the arm relentlessly. The Ostrich sold the arm really well all the while doing his spectacular flippy offense. Ospreay kept going for bigger and bigger stuff until KUSHIDA finally caught him with kimura to force the submission. This was very enjoyable and well done all around. (***1/2)


11. Matt Sydal vs. Will Ospreay – 8/21/2016


Super J Cup 2016 Second Round Match

These two wisely did not go for an epic in a tournament setting. Instead, they focused on pacing out some bigger spots while making sure the action never really let up. We got a very fun and reined in match as a result which made for a nice change from the usual Ospreay spotfest quite frankly. Sydal winning was also the right decision for the tournament, as he is by far the more consistent performer. This was fun. Sydal won with the shooting star press. (***½)

10. David Finlay & Jay White vs. Matt Sydal & Ricochet – 1/5/2016

9. Jushin Liger vs. Volador Jr. – 5/27/2016

8. Kamaitachi vs. Dragon Lee – 1/26/2016


This was for Lee’s CMLL World Lightweight Championship.

Much like all their other matches, this was fun and quite the spectacle. No one commits to the bomb-throwing highspot style like these two do. They produce the nuttiest matches anywhere in the world, and it’s exciting almost every time. This match had the added benefits of taking place in front of a fresh audience, and the fact that Kamaitachi finally took the title. Good stuff. Kamaitachi won with a Canadian Destroyer. (***1/2)


7. Kazushi Sakuraba & Kazuchika Okada vs. KUSHIDA & Katsuyori Shibata – 3/3/2016


I felt like I was watching a completely different company here. The in-ring pairings were so fresh, the action was reserved, and nothing dragged or felt bogged down. This was everything that the big NJPW stuff has not been for too long. It was so much fun, and it desperately made want all four guys to get a chance to interact on PPV in some 1v1 contests. Okada won after giving KUSHIDA the Rainmaker. (***1/2)


6. David Finlay & Ricochet vs. The Young Bucks – 10/10/2016


This was for the Bucks’ IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship.

This was one of the best junior tag matches in NJPW in quite some time. While everyone did their job well here, it seems clear that David Finlay adds a ton to this division.

He is a young boy and obviously deserves to get beaten a ton as a result. His ability to take a beating believably and then later recover in a way that did not undermine the beating made the whole match.

It’s genuinely the element missing from too many Bucks matches that contain heat segments, because all that work is often erased in the name of doing shit. This structure allowed Ricochet do the shit while Finlay held the match the together. Yay, wrestling. Finlay ate the pinfall obviously. (***3/4)


5. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. AJ Styles – 1/4/2016


This was for Nakamura’s IWGP Intercontinental Championship.

Deep down, I always knew it was possible that this match may not deliver. AJ Styles has not been a strong performer on non-G1 shows for NJPW, and Nakamura will eventually one day forget to show up on 1/4. That’s not to say that it wasn’t good (it was very good, in fact), but this could have (and should have) been great.

The first half or two-thirds of the match featured lots of neat ideas that were just not capitalized on. After some initial feeling out (more forgivable in a first-time matchup), Nakamura started to target AJ’s injured back, and AJ then after Shinsuke’s legs (for the calf slicer). The work from both of them was sporadic though and then led to no meaningful selling.

Then they went into a tremendously executed back-and-forth sequence that made the match for me. This was undeniably good stuff, and they did a great job of building up the drama with each move. AJ appeared to have the match won after reversing a triangle into a Styles Clash, but Naka kicked out. AJ went to finish him with a super Styles Clash, but Naka reversed it into an avalanche Landslide. (You can even argued that the Landslide was a callback to the early work on AJ’s back if you’re being generous.) Naka then finish him with a couple of Boma Ye.

Overall, this turned into a very fun match that I will look back on fondly. It had the opportunity to be great though, and that makes it a little disappointing as well. (***3/4)


4. Shinsuke Nakamura & YOSHI-HASHI vs. AJ Styles & Kenny Omega – 1/5/2016

3. Katsuyori Shibata vs. Kyle O’Reilly – 10/10/2016


This was for Shibata’s NEVER Openweight Championship.

Well, this was quite cool and a major improvement over their first encounter in ROH. All of the issues with atmosphere, a sense of stakes, and urgency that the ROH match had were corrected here. Both guys worked like they had something to prove while they also managed to integrate a cool story. Shibata was the better wrestler and generally had control. However, he had the shoulder/neck injury which provided Kyle with enough of an opportunity to keep it competitive. Kyle proved to be game, rallied the crowd behind (not that they were against Shibata), and made himself look like a believable winner by the end. This was great (despite the awful Germans trading spot needlessly thrown in). (****)


2. Jushin Liger vs. Eita – 7/20/2016


This was a first round match in the 2016 Super J Cup.

Liger remains the true king of kings. This was sooooooooo good. How is he still so good?

The match just starts with Eita jumping him and hitting a massive dive. It was great. It then got even better when Liger went for a fairly desperate palm strike on the floor only to hit a ringpost instead of Eita.

Liger predictably got control and dominated Eita for a bit (always a treat to see Liger beat up a mini). However, the key was that he needed a brainbuster on the floor to cut him off. That was not something Liger does all the time so it made Eita seem more impressive for bringing that out of him.

So, what did Eita do when he had openings after that? Went right after the left arm that Liger fucked up due to carelessness! Yes! Wrestling! Everything is beautiful!

Liger was able to survive that onslaught though and then finished Eita with a brainbuster. In the ideal world, this would lead to a feud culminating at Wrestle Kingdom or a big Dragon Gate PPV. As it stands though, it was a great match that will hopefully not be forgotten. (****)


1. Kazuchika Okada vs. Tomohiro Ishii – 8/6/2016


This was a 2016 G1 Climax match.

Wow. Obviously, this was a great match and oodles of fun. It’s amazing though that performers like these two and the powers that be in NJPW don’t look at this match and then immediately understand how superior this was compared to the usual effort in major NJPW singles matches.

A dynamic relationship between the characters was immediately established. Okada was being a condescending prick to a veteran. The veteran did not take kindly to this and tried to hurt and finish Okada right away.

This led to Okada developing a sense of urgency for the first time in his career, and he actually tried to finish Ishii right away in turn. It was such a refreshing change to see Okada actually look like he wanted to win and displaying concern that he needed to act quickly or he might not pull this one out. )There is a fine line between acting confident as a character and looking bored as a performer, and Okada has struggled to be on the right side of that for far too long.)

With that tone quickly established, both guys worked to keep it consistent all the way throughout the contest. Ishii threw everything he had at Okada, and Okada relied on his trademarked offensive repertoire to keep him at bay. It was exciting and created a rabid atmosphere.

Both guys tried to be as violent and viscous as possible, and both guys conveyed a true sense of wanting to win. These are elements that Okada and NJPW in general need a hell of a lot more of going forward. This match was excellent, and Ishii going over cleanly felt important. Great job. (****1/4)



Watch NJPW for free:

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Yuji Nagata

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Karl Anderson

Prince Devitt vs. Kenny Omega


La Sombra vs. Davey Richards

KUSHIDA vs. Kota Ibushi

Kurt Angle vs. Yuji Nagata

Masaaki Mochizuki & Don Fujii vs. Gedo & Jado

article topics :

NJPW, TJ Hawke