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Kevin’s NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 15 Night One Review

January 4, 2021 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja
NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 15 Kota Ibushi
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Kevin’s NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 15 Night One Review  

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 15 Night One
January 4th, 2021 | Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan | Attendance: 12,689

It’s January 4th and you know what that means! It’s Wrestle Kingdom time. I’m intrigued by the card as it feels like a mixed bag but has potential to deliver.

New Japan Rumble
I love the RAMBO! There’s a twist this year in that the match stops when there are four men left, who will compete for the 2021 KOPW trophy tomorrow. Chase Owens and Tomohiro Ishii kicked things off. The idea was that Owens wanted to go the distance but quickly ran into trouble with Ishii and #3, Minoru Suzuki. Then Yuji Nagata entered, so all of NJPW’s tough dudes were here, and also Owens. Commentary predicted a big 2021 for Toa Henare, which is funny since they’ve called that for years. Scrub Hirooki Goto was in this too. Most of this followed regular battle royal stuff, though it lacked some of the fun of seeing guys like Haku and Scott Norton involved. I did get a kick out of Rocky Romero showing up when he was supposed to be on commentary. SHO joined in as well and I popped hard. That dude is legitimately a top five wrestler in the company to me. In the end, it came down to Owens, Bad Luck Fale, BUSHI, and Toru Yano after 34:40. It was quite bland after a pretty solid start. [**¼]

El Phantasmo vs. Hiromu Takahashi
The Best of the Super Juniors winner faces the Super J-Cup winner for a shot at Taiji Ishimori tomorrow. If I’m right, this is a first time ever match. ELP was a jerk right from the start, disrespecting everything in sight until Hiromu shut him up with some high impact moves. ELP was a spectacular dick, mocking past Bullet Club members including Kenny Omega and AJ Styles. He even tried going for things like the Styles Clash and One-Winged Angel. That probed to be his undoing. He played around too much and Hiromu was able to rally. After spending the match fighting from behind, he could get the upper hand through hope spots because ELP left the door open far too often. The closing stretch saw some big time counters and a few near falls before Hiromu countered CR2 into a pin, winning in 17:46. Very good way to start the show. They told a simple story highlighted by big action and quality character work. [***¾]

IWGP Tag Team Championship: The Dangerous Tekkers [c] vs. The Guerrillas of Destiny
Zack Sabre Jr. and Taichi have been treats as champions, saving a division that has long been plagued by drab teams like The Guerrillas of Destiny. So naturally, I fully expected Gedo to put the titles right back on them. It was pretty weird to see Suzuki-Gun guys booked as babyfaces. It made sense since fans have gotten behind them over the past few months. They had DOUKI at ringside to counter Jado. Most of this match was pretty solid. The challengers showcased better offense and a more focused style than usual. The champions were tremendous, pulling out all of the stops, being entertaining, and looking like a well-oiled machine. Ultimately, Jado did get involved and it helped his boys set the record as seven-time champions after 19:18. The champions dragged their lame challengers kicking and screaming to a good match. Only put G.O.D. in there with good teams from now on. Duos like ZSJ and Taichi or Roppongi 3K are the only guys who have gotten something good out of them. [***¼]

We got a video from Jon Moxley holding the IWGP United States Heavyweight Title. He vowed to give a title shot to whoever walked out of the Tokyo Dome with the contract.

IWGP United States Heavyweight Title Shot Briefcase: KENTA [c] vs. Satoshi Kojima
Not a much-hyped match, especially since Kojima replaced Juice Robinson, but one of my most anticipated. I’m a big fan of both. I wanted hard hitting affair and that’s mostly what I got. Kojima is one of the few New Japan Dads who can still flat out go, though it might be because he only has to gear up for one or two big matches each year. This was basically Kojima bringing the fight to KENTA and kind of overwhelming him. It caused Kojima to actually step back and resort to cheating by trying to bring the briefcase into the fold. Kojima swatting it the fuck away was great. I love Kojima. Of course, that was kind of Kojima’s final big moment. KENTA hit the Busaiku Knee that he doesn’t often utilize and then won with the Go to Sleep in 14:12. Hell yeah. A stiff match between two really good wrestlers. [***½]

The Great-O-Khan vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
GO ACE! I don’t even care what else happens in NJPW as long as I get my dose of Tanahashi. The Great-O-Khan looks totally goofy. The story here revolved around Tanahashi possibly being done as a top singles star. For example, he struggled to do some of his classic stuff including skinning the cat. A loss to O-Kahn would be devastating for Tanahashi’s career. O-Khan got to be in control and hit a fair bit of offense, showing off his repertoire. Tanahashi weathered the storm and made the valiant comeback, winning with High Fly Flow after 17:13. Look, I didn’t write a ton here but that’s because it was so simple. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Tanahashi can make that work wonders. He’s still got it and made sure O-Khan looked good in defeat. Go ace. [***¼]

Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay
A match I was dreading. Will Ospreay is indeed a horrible human being but he’s also been lesser in the ring lately. His 2020 G1 was a huge step down from his 2019 work. I also haven’t enjoyed him against Okada, no matter how many stars Dave Meltzer tosses at their meetings. Then, I read that this went 36 minutes and I’m not at all interested in seeing Willy try to work 35+ minutes. Anyway, Willy was out with fellow terrible person Bea Priestley. SAVE_US.OKADA. Willy has a 1-4 record against Okada, losing at the Global Wars UK in 2015 (***½), 2018 Anniversary Show (***), the 2019 New Japan Cup (***¼), and G1 29 (***½), before winning in the G1 30 (***¼). Early on, I already had a problem with this as I wanted Okada to come out with more fire. Will turned his back on you and CHAOS, so Okada should’ve gone right after him but that damn formula. I did pop for Okada doing shit like a tope con hilo. Change it up, baby! The actual wrestling between the two is quality, with solid strikes and smooth counters, though that’s to be expected. The intensity finally picked up with a suplex onto a table outside. Similar to ELP earlier, Ospreay’s arrogance cost him, opening the door for Okada to start kicking his ass. Willy threw his best shots at Okada, including the Oscutter, but it wasn’t enough. There were some good late bits, like Ospreay slapping Okada up and using the Tombstone/Rainmaker combo, or Okada dropkicking the shit out of him out of the air. Okada wrapped this up after 35:41 with the Rainmaker. Like I said, there were some great aspects but the overall package wasn’t something great. They could’ve told the story in a better manner in a shorter timeframe but opted for the attempted epic. I like that Okada remained on top and shut up the arrogant prick as it was the right place to take the story, with Willy probably beating him later in the year. Very good but certainly not a classic. [***¾]

IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Championships: Tetsuya Naito [c] vs. Kota Ibushi
Guys, I’m scared. These two are notorious for trying to murder each other. Ibushi won their matches at the G1 23 (****), 2015 New Japan Cup (****), G1 28 (****¼), 2019 New Japan Cup (****½), and G1 Supercard (****¼). Naito won at the G1 27 (****¾) and Dominion 2019 (****¼). Surprisingly, this got off to a rather slow start. Ibushi went after the leg, while Naito seemed to enjoy the slower pace against a guy like Ibushi. Of course, they would quickly snap off something that kicked it into the next gear like Ibushi’s sweet rana. Things started to get into the dangerous area with a neckbreaker on the outside. The first 15 minutes here flew by because these dudes are so phenomenal at what they do. The snap rana off the apron was the stuff of legend and looked incredible. The same goes for Naito’s super reverse rana. It was clearly time to throw caution to the wind. It progressed into more of a slugfest with every slap and strike heard clearly thanks to the smaller crowd. As one would expect, the closing stretch was spectacular and saw the two throw bombs at each other. Destino obviously didn’t end it and when Ibushi finally won with the Kamigoye after 31:18, both men were out. You almost got the sense that it was just the next man to hit a big move that would’ve ended it. A stunning main event that was better than what we got in last year’s headliners but a notch under Tanahashi/Omega from 2019. [****½]

Naito, who refused to shake Ibushi’s hand after losing to him in the G1 23, took the two titles and handed them to Ibushi in a sign of respect. Jay White showed up to spoil the party and vowed to pull Ibushi back down tomorrow.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
A show that was surprisingly easy to watch given that WK is usually super long. There was nothing bad on the show, with the RAMBO being harmless fun and everything else getting at least ***¼. Naito/Ibushi was the only thing to crack **** but this is a night filled with quality wrestling from top to bottom.

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Wrestle Kingdom 15, Kevin Pantoja