Kazuchika Okada’s battle with Kenny Omega was the talk of the wrestling world after Wrestle Kingdom 11
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A 2016 of much change saw Hiroshi Tanahashi head into January 4 2017 not in the main event for the first time in seven years, as Kenny Omega headlined for the first time. After AJ Styles was kicked out of BULLET CLUB immediately following his loss to Shinsuke Nakamura on January 4 2016, Omega instantly shot to prominence, quickly taking the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, and going on to win the G1 Climax on his first attempt.
With the world’s eyes descending on the Tokyo Dome, the question was asked as to who should be the international face of the NJPW boom? Kazuchika Okada, whose star was rising internationally as it already shone bright at home, or Kenny Omega, whose athleticism and brash charisma raised eyebrows around the world?
Okada would win out, but only after the hardest fought Tokyo Dome main event to date. 46 minutes and 45 seconds of the highest level offense from both men held audiences around the world in rapture, but it was the Rainmaker that saw Okada hang on, just barely to his IWGP Heavyweight Championship, extending his historic reign into hitherto uncharted territory.
Meanwhile, 2016 had seen the true ascent of Los Ingobernables De Japon. Tetsuya Naito, transformed by his excursion to Mexico in 2015, and acceptance into the Los Ingobernables fold, would win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for the first time the following April. Adding SANADA and then Hiromu Takahashi to the groups ranks during the year, Naito not only ensured that LIJ was among the most talked about factions in the world, but would seek to take out NJPW’s long standing Ace. In his battle with Hiroshi Tanahashi, Naito was not concerned with the Ace’s IWGP Intercontinental Championship, but rather with ‘driving a nail’ into Tanahashi’s career.
It was fists that would be driven as Naito stopped Tanahashi from scoring the High Fly Flow and pounded at the champion’s knee. Though the Ace would torture his challenger’s own historically weakened right knee with the Texas Cloverleaf, it was both those hurt knees that were sacrificed when Naito put them in the path of another High Fly Flow, and Destino would end the bout; Naito symbolically pushing that nail post match with a fist bump to his fallen foe’s heart.
A personal battle of a different kind surrounded the NEVER Openweight Championship as Katsuyori Shibata defended against Hirooki Goto. Shibata had been tied to the NEVER title through 2016 after battling Tomohiro Ishii for the belt one year prior, and the tape covering his body would tell the tale of a year filled with hard fought and impactful matches against all comers. With a series of fights against the Third Generation of NJPW truly cementing his place back in NJPW title lineage, he now faced his teenage friend in the Tokyo Dome for a second time, only two years removed from the two men winning the IWGP Tag Team Championships in the very same venue. Neither expected any quarter and none was given, with Goto giving Shibata the finishing GTR to become the 15th holder of the NEVER title.