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    Tuesday, February 1, 2022

    #CafePuro: What Can We Expect From NJPW In 2022?

    New Japan Pro-Wrestling started off its 50th anniversary year with a bang when they held Wrestle Kingdom 16 for three days, with the final night concluding in the much-anticipated NJPW vs. NOAH matchup.

    GHC Heavyweight Champion Katsuhiko Nakajima hits Shingo Takagi with a Belly to Back Suplex (Photo from NJPW1972)

    The biggest show of the year was followed up by the Golden Series which took the place instead of the usual New Beginning tours as a throwback title that NJPW used in the '80s to '90s.

    However, there's currently a lull in the calendar since many NJPW wrestlers got sick, so we're here to help fill in that time while we wait for the next shows to proceed.

    Let's take a look at five things to ponder from Wrestle Kingdom 16 and what could happen next.

    1. The Rainmaker is Back

    Prior to WK16, Kazuchika Okada had been stuck in limbo as he was recovering from tons of injuries for the last two years. Okada had not main-evented Wrestle Kingdom since WK14 when he defended his IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Tetsuya Naito.

    And in typical Gedo fashion, Okada was pushed all the way down and brought back up. Remember Baloonmaker Okada? 

    Screenshot by Emily Pratt of WithSpandex

    Yeah. That happened. 

    Luckily, Gedo's plan worked and after spending time in the midcard for the last two years, Okada would once again win the grueling G1 Climax tournament.

    I'll admit that the win was bittersweet since the match ended due to forfeit because of Kota Ibushi accidentally injuring himself. The Okada we knew from before would slowly make his return post-G1 when he brought back the famous V4 IWGP Heavyweight Championship belt to symbolize the G1 as a Championship. 

    Prior to the G1 being a bye into the main event of Wrestle Kingdom, the G1 Climax was considered a title in itself because of how grueling it was. Sadly, the return of the V4 belt was only temporary as Okada paid his respects to the belt at the end of Night 2, bowed to the former top belt, and held the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship high in Tokyo Dome.

    2. Kaito Kiyomiya is For Real

    Very few people were aware of this young wunderkind that came out of Pro-Wrestling NOAH's Dojo. Only super puro nerds like myself were familiar with the future of NOAH. And with one fell swoop, Kaito Kiyomiya convinced NJPW fans to watch NOAH in his epic performance against Kazuchika Okada.

    Pro-Wrestling NOAH's Kaito Kiyomiya hits Kazuchika Okada with a Jumping Knee
    (Photo from NJPW1972)

    For those unfamiliar, Kaito Kiyomiya is one of the key pieces in Pro-Wrestling NOAH's progress for the future. They did not have any major young prospects for the longest time. Compared to the deep prospect pool of DDT or NJPW, NOAH had very few to no Young Lions to speak of—that is, until recently.

    I can compare Kaito Kiyomiya to Kazuchika Okada when he was just starting as the Rainmaker. He's a brash, confident, maybe cocky rookie who believes he can take their company to the future.

    Okada has already elevated NJPW in the present and Kaito wants to revive Pro-Wrestling NOAH. 
    Here's the catch, though: during the 2000s, when you thought of puroresu, you would likely be recommended a NOAH match just because of how physical their matches wereWhen the 2010s arrived, NOAH was embroiled in a scandalous connection resulting in a downward spiral that they are only coming out of in recent years. Once NOAH was purchased by a different company, they finally started to rejuvenate in the late 2010s and now in the early 2020s. Meanwhile, NJPW had to ride on Hiroshi Tanahashi's back in the 2000s while catering to nearly empty venues until it became one of the major options for wrestlers in the 2010s.

    In other words, Kaito Kiyomiya wants to take NOAH to the next level like Okada did for NJPW. And how do you do that? You face the Rainmaker head-on and show him your worth. The end of the main event tag match of Okada and Tanahashi versus Mutoh and Kiyomiya was very reminiscent of Kazuchika Okada walking out of Tokyo Dome crying in disappointment that he didn't fulfill his promise.  

    A disappointed Kaito Kiyomiya walks away from the ring with Keiji Mutoh by his side as Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanhashi look on (Screenshot from Wrestle Universe)

    Now take a look at the end of the tag match and look at Kaito's expression as he walked to the back with Mutoh. 

    Kaito Kiyomiya is on a similar path to Okada during his early years and if he wants to surpass the Rainmaker, he has to reach Okada's level. Just like Okada had to learn his lesson for another year, I believe Kaito Kiyomiya will do the same in order to show that Pro-Wrestling NOAH is back and here to stay.

    3. Focusing on Local Talent

    One of the biggest advantages of NOAH over NJPW is that majority of their roster is stacked with Japanese wrestlers. NJPW had relied on foreign talent for the longest time in order to attract international viewers. 

    I will admit that I started watching NJPW because of the presence of foreign wrestlers, but the travel issues caused by COVID-19 are still here and we still don't know how long it will take for foreign wrestlers to be able to travel freely back and forth again. The lack of foreign talent has caused major issues for NJPW, but NOAH is doing fine and maybe even better than New Japan because they don't have to rely on major foreign talents potentially missing an event because of quarantine requirements. The NOAH wrestlers already live in Japan after all.

    What I got from the end of Night 2 with Okada becoming champion again was that New Japan was starting a reset on their events. They finally realized that it would be difficult for foreign talent to fly back and forth so it looks like New Japan is going to follow a similar path to Pro-Wrestling NOAH.
    The company remembered they have a talented roster of wrestlers who have yet to see a major push including Master Wato, SHO, and YOH, among others. New Japan can finally push younger stars who aren't based abroad like how NOAH has focused on developing wrestlers like Kaito Kiyomiya, Shinya Okada, and more.

    Look, I enjoy seeing foreign wrestlers in Japan as much as any other person but we have to make do with what the companies can do now and grow the company from there. The focus on local talent is only going to help grow these companies. Let the wrestling do the talking. Besides, the foreign talent can concentrate on NJPW Strong and build a presence in North America to grow the brand.

    4. Another US Show

    Speaking of the US-based talent that NJPW has, the NJPW Global Account posted a very cryptic tweet about a possible major US show this coming April.

    It's in Chicago, since it's a wrestling hotbed with 7 letters in its name, and there is a certain Saint who needs to settle some business with a man who talks to cameras like it was a dating simulator.

    5. Shibata will wrestle even more

    Let's face one last reality in New Japan. The roster has been spread thin with the lack of foreign talent being unable to fly to Japan. Katsuyori Shibata's return at Wrestle Kingdom meant that we could see him fill in the spot he was meant to have all those years ago as one of the company's New Three Musketeers

    For those unaware, NJPW had a chosen trio called the Three Musketeers who would be the center of all the company's major storylines. The original trio was comprised of Keiji Mutoh, Masahiro Chono, and Shinya Hashimoto. Once that trio's prime in NJPW had passed, New Japan attempted to repeat the formula with the trio of Hiroshi Tanahashi, Katsuyori Shibata, and Shinsuke Nakamura.

    Hiroshi Tanahashi has already done so much for the company and so had Shinsuke Nakamura. The only musketeer who has unfinished business and hasn't won the IWGP Heavyweight title is Shibata. 
    I want to hold on to hope that Shibata will finally claim a world title. Just don't headbutt yourself into oblivion Shibata-san. Please! We don't want you getting hurt even more.

    BONUS: Farewell Kimihiko Ozaki

    The Japanese side of NJPW had to postpone or cancel several shows because of a recent COVID outbreak. That means ring announcer Kimihiko Ozaki's farewell show had to be canceled. 

    Ozaki's departure will be felt a lot since he does so many great ring announcements including getting attacked by Bad Luck Fale. So let's cherish the times Makoto Abe gets attacked in every EVIL match from now on.

    In spite of the recent cancellations, NJPW will be hosting a live stream on February 1 at 6pm PH Time. The stream will be hosted by TAICHI, Yoshinobu Kanemaru and IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion El Desperado. There will be no archived version of the event so make sure to stay tuned!

    So what do you expect from New Japan Pro-Wrestling in 2022? Share your thoughts below!
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    Item Reviewed: #CafePuro: What Can We Expect From NJPW In 2022? Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Steven Maxwell Tan
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