Wrestle Kingdom XV Night One
Date: January 4, 2021
Location: Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan
Commentators: Kevin Kelly, Chris Charlton, Rocky Romero
It’s time for the biggest non-American show of the year and like last year it’s going to take place over the course of two nights. The main event is for the still unified IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Titles, which have been together for a year now for some reason. This show almost always delivers and hopefully it does so again. Let’s get to it.
Note that I have barely followed any New Japan over the last year so I’m coming in virtually blind.
Pre-Show: New Japan Rambo
This is the 21 man Royal Rumble style match with pin/submission or over the top eliminations and a special twist this year: the final four advance to a four way for the Provisional King Of Pro Wrestling Trophy tomorrow night. Chase Owens is in at #1 (as he wanted) and Tomohiro Ishii is in at #2 with neither being able to hit an early finisher attempt. That means a standoff and with the one minute interval up, Minoru Suzuki is in at #3.
Owens needs a breather on the floor before coming back in to get beaten up by the monsters. Ishii and Suzuki forearm it out and it’s Yuji Nagata in at #4. Owens and Ishii pair off in the corner as Suzuki beats Nagata down at the same time. Toa Henare (a young monster) is in at #5 to miss a bunch of shots to Ishii. Henare manages to muscle Ishii up with a suplex and it’s Hirooki Goto in at #6.
Ishii sends Nagata and Suzuki to the apron and Henare gets rid of both of them (that’s a surprise). Goto elbows Owens down for two and it’s Yujiro Takahashi in at #7. Ishii dumps Henare as they’re keeping the eliminations moving (I wonder if that’s a Coronavirus thing). Yoshi-Hashi is in at #8 to help clean house with Goto (his partner) until Togi Makabe is in at #9. Makabe gets rid of Goto and Yoshi-Hashi in a hurry, meaning we’re down to Makabe, Owens, Ishii and Takahashi at the moment. Eliminations are teased Tomoaki Honma is in at #10.
Forearms and chops abound until Hiroyoshi Tenzan is in at #11. Honma and Tenzan get rid of Makabe (Honma’s regular partner) and Rocky Romero (who is supposed to be on commentary) is in at #12. Owens saves himself from elimination and it’s Douki in at #13. The pace picks up a bit with Romero hitting the forever clotheslines but Douki hits him with a pipe…..for a DQ elimination. Fair enough and makes sense here.
Sho is in at #14 and seems to be a female favorite, though he can’t get rid of Owens. Bushi is in at #15 as the ring is getting a little full. Takahashi is out to clear things up a bit and Bushi is sent through the ropes, meaning no elimination. Tiger Mask is in at #16 and gets kneed in the ribs by Romero. Bad Luck Fale is in at #17 and, with the help of Bullet Club stablemate Owens, gets rid of Ishii. Honma is out as well as Gabriel Kidd is in at #18.
There goes Tenzan as well but Owens saves Fale from the same thing. Yuya Uemura is in at #19 as Fale gets rid of Romero and Sho. Tiger Mask is out as well, leaving us with Fale, Owens, Kidd and Uemura at the moment. Yota Tsu is in at #20 as Bushi, still in apparently, pulls Owens underneath the bottom rope to beat him up on the floor.
Fale is having none of this getting dumped out by three people and it’s Toru Yano (the KOPW Champion) to complete the field at #21. That leaves us with Owens, Fale, Kidd, Uemura, Tsu, Bushi and Yano, the latter of whom takes so long to get in that it’s just Bushi, Fale and Owens waiting on him….meaning they’re the final four at 34:40. Yano never even got in the ring.
Rating: C. This wasn’t as crazy entertaining as some of the matches, but Yano’s gag at the end was funny. As usual, this was nothing more than a way to get people out there for the sake of getting them in there and it worked out just fine. It’s a nice way to get a feeling for the show and not do anything serious at the same time. Fun match, and that’s all it was supposed to be.
A ring announcer with a Don King wig introduces Riki Choshu, with his grandson, to get things going. They hype up the show and shout a lot.
We get the opening video, showing the card in order (still not sure if I like that or not but it works here).
A quick Brodie Lee intro serves as a nice dedication.
Hiromu Takahashi vs. El Phantasmo
This is the Best of the Super Juniors winner vs. the Best of the Super J Cup winner (twice in a row for Phantasmo) with the winner getting an IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title match tomorrow night. Phantasmo is not the nicest person in the world and throw down the jacket he received for winning the tournament. He even mocks Takahashi for trying to pick it up. What a jerk.
Phantasmo bails to the floor at the bell and throws Takahashi’s trophy down. The jacket is picked up but Takahashi dropkicks him down and hits a top rope backsplash to a standing Phantasmo. It’s way too early for the Time Bomb though and Phantasmo bails to the floor. Instead Phantasmo hits a running sunset bomb to plant Takahashi on the floor as they’re starting fast here. Takahashi is down so Phantasmo walks the ropes for a moonsault to drop him again.
Phantasmo comes up favoring his ankle (apparently a recurring injury) but he’s fine enough to mock the Rise of the Terminator. That’s enough of a delay for Takahashi to come back in with a dropkick to the back of the head but Phantasmo goes after Takahashi’s foot. There’s a rake to the back and Phantasmo lays him on the top rope for a top rope backsplash (that’s a new one). A very multiple springboard rope walk….something is broken up with a crotching to put Phantasmo down on top.
Phantasmo is back up but can’t hit the Styles Clash, allowing Takahashi to hit some kind of a powerslam for two. A superkick into a suplex faceplant gets two more on Phantasmo. Back up and Time Bomb 2 (starts in a reverse suplex whatever it is) is countered into a kneeling belly to back piledriver for two on Takahashi. Phantasmo’s top rope superplex is broken up but the referee gets bumped, allowing Phantasmo to hit a super hurricanrana.
The top rope splash gives Phantasmo two more, followed by the Styles Clash for the same. Phantasmo tries the One Winged Angel but gets reversed into a Death Valley Driver into the corner. Back up and Phantasmo tries what looks like a powerbomb (CR2) but gets reversed into a hurricanrana for the pin at 17:49.
Rating: B+. That’s the kind of way to open up a big time show like this as they had the time and got to build things up rather well. Takahashi is a consistent star and Phantasmo looks like one of the most dislikeable names in all of the promotion. The counters and big moves here, tied in with Phantasmo going through the history of the Bullet Club finishers, made for a good match and it pulled me into the show as it was supposed to do.
IWGP Tag Team Titles: Guerrillas of Destiny vs. Dangerous Tekkers
The Tekkers (Zack Sabre Jr./Taichi) are defending against the World Tag League winners (Tama Tonga/Tonga Loa, who I will get confused at least 17 times today. Jado is with them too for a bonus.). Tama is taken into the corner for a running elbow and it’s time to choke away a lot. Sabre’s cross armbreaker doesn’t last long so it’s a running boot in the corner to set up more choking from Taichi.
A Jado distraction lets the Guerrillas take over though and Tama unloads on Taichi with right hands. Loa gets two off a belly to back suplex and we hit the chinlock. Taichi fights up and hits a boot in the corner, allowing the tag back to Sabre. That means some running elbows in the corner, setting up the European Clutch for two on Tama. The Octopus goes on to send Tama to the rope but Loa is back in with a double clothesline to the champs. A jumping neckbreaker gets two on Sabre, whose sleeper is broken up in a hurry.
Tama powerbombs Sabre for two and Guerrilla Warfare (a reverse Magic Killer) drops Taichi. Sabre counters the superbomb into a guillotine choke on Tama while Taichi chokes Loa as well. Taichi lets go and then powerbombs Sabre to superplex Tama for a close two (that was cool, though maybe not the most brilliant move). A kick to the head gets two more on Tama but he’s right back up for a failed Magic Killer attempt.
An exchange of shots to the head puts everyone down and we get a breather. Taichi and Loa slug it out until Sabre is back up to kick Loa in the face. Tama is back up with the Gun Stun to Sabre but Taichi plants him for two more. Taichi removes his pants (Garza wannabe) but Jado gets in to slip Tama a glove. That means Taichi is knocked out and an over the shoulder sitout piledriver gives Loa the pin and the titles at 19:22.
Rating: B-. I wasn’t feeling this one as much and the interference didn’t help. The Guerrillas are still one of the best teams in the world but it was kind of a messy match. You have Sabre as the most heelish guy in the world and the Guerrillas cheating to win, so who was I supposed to boo here? It was a good match with both teams working hard, but not exactly must see stuff.
We get a video about death riding on a pale horse….and it’s IWGP United States Champion Jon Moxley, saying that he’s coming for whoever wins the next match because he’s the Boogeyman of New Japan.
Kenta vs. Satoshi Kojima
Kenta’s IWGP United States Title shot is on the line and Kojima, with Hiroyoshi Tenzan, is replacing an injured Juice Robinson. Kenta hits the stall button to start by hiding in the ropes and then going to the floor. Back in and Kojima grabs the headlock to grind him down before knocking Kenta outside again. This time Kenta goes after Tenzan so Kojima follows, only to get caught in a DDT on the floor.
They head inside again with Kenta’s regular DDT getting two and a kick to the back rocking Kojima. We hit the figure four necklock so Kojima goes with the simple escape by putting a foot on the rope. The cocky kicks just annoy Kojima but a big kick to the chest puts him down. Back up and some chops have Kenta in trouble, including the machine gun chops in the corner. A superplex brings Kojima down though and the top rope clothesline gets two.
They fight to the apron with Kojima hitting a DDT but Kenta is back with his own DDT for the double knockdown. It’s Kenta up first with a top rope double stomp for two but Kojima blocks the GTS. Kojima’s lariat is countered into a powerslam so Kenta goes outside for the briefcase (#1 contendership). That’s knocked away with the lariat and another lariat gives Kojima two. Kenta hits his running knee but Kojima slugs away with forearms of his own. That just earns Kojima another running knee for two and it’s the Go To Sleep to retain the title at 14:09.
Rating: B-. Like the previous match, they hit each other rather hard for a good while but there was no drama to this one. I didn’t but Kojima as a threat to win the title shot as it seems that Kenta vs. Moxley is already locked into stone. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it was just a match that came and went with Kenta surviving Kojima without much effort.
We get a video of IWGP World Champion Tetsuya Naito talking to a man in a suit in a restaurant. Naito says something about Los Ingobernables and the man seems to be trying to calm him down. Apparently this is an ad for a video game. Cool enough.
We pause for a bit for some cleaning of the ringside for Coronavirus’ sake. That means an intermission, with commentary previewing the rest of the show.
We get some ads as well, meaning it’s a nice breather in a long show.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Great-O-Khan
Khan is formerly known as Tomoyuki Oka, who recently returned from excursion to Rev Pro in the United Kingdom. Now he’s part of the Empire with Bea Priestley and Will Ospreay and attacked Tanahashi to set this up. Feeling out process to start with neither being able to get anywhere until Tanahashi takes him to the mat. A headlock has Khan in trouble but he’s back up with a chop to the chest.
Tanahashi tries to skin the cat but gets his hands chopped down to put him on the floor. A slam drops Tanahashi on the ramp and he has to dive back in to beat the count. Back in and Khan grabs a kneebar but Tanahashi is able to grab a dragon screw legwhip. Some forearms have Khan down and a middle rope Swanton gets two. Khan is fine enough to reverse a Sling Blade attempt into a belly to back faceplant and it’s time to slug it out. A Downward Spiral gives Khan two and he bends Tanahashi’s knee around his neck.
That’s broken up with a rope break so Khan sends him over the top, but this time skinning the cat works. Twist and Shout into the Sling Blade gets two on Khan and Tanahashi blocks his claw slam (the Eliminator). A belly to back flipping suplex gets two on Tanahashi and a reverse suplex puts him down again. Khan brings in a chair but Tanahashi hits another Twist and Shout. The chair is thrown away and a dragon suplex gets two. Back to back High Fly Flow’s finish Khan at 17:26.
Rating: C-. What was that??? Khan feels like he stepped into a time machine on his way to being a Hogan knockoff Monster of the Month in 1986 and wound up in an entirely wrong time. Tanahashi was doing his thing as well as he could but Khan was in the old pound away and squeeze on the hero mold and that was boring almost thirty years ago. Khan felt so completely out of place here and I get the bad reports I’ve seen of him. Maybe he can do something outside of this gimmick, but this was REALLY bad for a Wrestle Kingdom match.
We recap Will Ospreay vs. Kazuchika Okada. Ospreay is the leader of the Empire and attacked Okada to get attention on the team. Now it’s time for revenge. Ospreay saying he is going to stop the rain so the sun can shine on the Empire is a great line.
Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay
Ospreay’s British Heavyweight Title isn’t on the line. Bea Priestley is here with Ospreay, who gets the big entrance video, featuring him breaking televisions with a bat. They stare at each other for a good while to start before locking up to a standoff. The rapid exchange of forearms is on until Okada scores with a running elbow to the face. Ospreay gets knocked to the floor to start the chop off, with Okada getting the better of things. The big running flip dive takes Ospreay down again but it feels like they have a lot of time here.
Priestley offers a distraction though and Ospreay gets in a cheap shot from behind. The floor mats are pulled back but Ospreay can’t hit a piledriver. He can hit a neckbreaker onto the pads but the referee won’t count it because of the illegalness. That’s a new/cool one. A backbreaker connects and we hit a chinlock with a knee in Okada’s back but he isn’t sitting in that for very long. One heck of a backdrop sets up the White Noise onto the knee for two but it’s too early for the Money Clip (cobra clutch) as Ospreay drives him into the corner.
A German suplex gives Ospreay two but Stormbreaker is broken up as well. Heavy Rain puts Ospreay down again and we get a bit of a breather. Ospreay gets a boot up in the corner but gets dropkicked out to the floor for a big crash. A big whip into the barricade doesn’t do much to Ospreay, who is back with a boot to the face. The Oscutter on the floor is broken up though and they’re both down on the outside. Back in and Okada hits a missile dropkick but Ospreay grabs a reverse Bloody Sunday for two more.
Ospreay superkicks him in the back of the head so Okada hits a dropkick to the back of the head. Okada’s dropkick is countered into a sitout powerbomb (nice) for another near fall and they have to pull themselves up. Another collision puts them on the floor again but this time Ospreay suplexes him onto (not through) the announcers’ table. Ospreay doesn’t want the countout though and throws Okada back in for two off a powerbomb.
Stormbreaker and the Oscutter on the apron are blocked so Okada hits a Tombstone on the apron instead. They both beat the count so Okada hits a Rainmaker into the dropkick into the Money Clip. With that broken up, Okada hits the Tombstone but has to send Ospreay into Priestley onto the apron. The Money Clip goes on again but a foot on the rope is good enough for the break. Ospreay catches him on top with a running big boot and there’s the super Spanish Fly for two (applause).
The Oscutter drops Okada for a slightly delayed two so it’s time to stomp Okada in the head. Ospreay even shoves the referee down but this is too big of a match for a DQ. A discus elbow is countered with a dropkick and the Money Clip goes on again. That’s broken up so Ospreay hits his own Tombstone into the Rainmaker for two. Okada is ticked so it’s a sitout Tombstone into the Rainmaker for the pin at 35:29.
Rating: A. These are two of the best in-ring performers in the world and they got over half an hour on one of the biggest shows of the year. Like this could be anything else. There was a story here of Ospreay trying to step up and mess with the biggest dog but he took it one step too far by stealing the Rainmaker and Okada had to teach him a lesson. Okada really is one of the smoothest wrestlers I’ve ever seen and as great as high flying Ospreay is, the heel version has a different edge to him and it’s awesome. This was great and worth seeing for the last few minutes alone.
We recap the main event. Tetsuya Naito became a double (IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental) Champion last year at Wrestle Kingdom, then lost the belts and won them back. Kota Ibushi won the G1 but lost the rights to challenge for the title to Jay White. However, White wanted to challenge on Night Two so Ibushi gets to challenge here instead. I’m sure there’s more to it than that but the language barrier strikes again.
IWGP Heavyweight Title/IWGP Intercontinental Title: Kota Ibushi vs. Tetsuya Naito
Naito is defending both titles and absolutely he has the white suit. Feeling out process to start and they go to the mat, as you might have expected. Naito goes for a choke but gets reversed into a hammerlock. That doesn’t go anywhere either and the grappling continues until it’s a standoff, with Naito landing in the tranquillo pose. Back up and they run the ropes with Kota snapping off a hurricanrana to the floor.
Kota joins him and gets German suplexed onto the ramp to put them both down for a bit. Naito stomps away back inside and it’s off to a headscissors on the mat. A cravate stays on the neck but the tornado DDT is broken up, allowing Kota to snap off a dropkick. Kota hits a running kick to the face into a standing moonsault for two and they need a quick breather. It’s Naito up first with an elbow to the face and a running dropkick, only to have Kota send him to the floor.
Naito grabs a swinging neckbreaker outside though and they’re both down again. Back in and something like a full nelson with the legs stays on Kota’s neck until he gets a foot on the rope. Naito tries to slide between his legs and gets double stomped in the ribs to put them both down again at the fifteen minute time call. The middle rope moonsault missed for Kota and he gets pulled into a reverse Koji Clutch (the consistent neck work has been really good so far, if nothing else because Naito isn’t doing the same thing over and over).
The rope gets Kota out of trouble again so Naito elbows him in the neck to put him back down. They go to the apron again with Naito backdropping his way out of a powerbomb attempt. That’s fine with Kota, who snaps off a good looking hurricanrana to the floor. Naito has to dive back in to beat the count (with commentary begging him to make it because they want to see more rather than insulting each other and making it about themselves) and catches Kota on top for a super poisonrana.
Destino is broken up though and Kota kicks him in the head. Another Destino attempt is countered into a kneeling Tombstone but Kota can’t cover. They’re both down so the fans applaud, even as the two of them slug it out from their knees to their feet, with Kota nailing a running elbow. The big knee to the face gets two on Naito and Kota can’t believe it was a near fall.
The Phoenix splash misses and Destino (not a great one) connects for two on Kota, sending Kelly into a rather awesome call about what this all means. Kota hits another kick to the head into another knee to the face for a very near fall, meaning it’s time to take the kneepad down. Naito isn’t having that and hits an enziguri, looking to set up Destino. That’s countered as well and it’s a jumping knee into the face, setting up another knee to the face to finish Naito for the pin and both titles at 31:22.
Rating: A. Yeah this was great too with Naito working on the neck throughout but surviving because he wouldn’t give up no matter what. This one was more built around who was going to be the last man standing and it worked perfectly, with Kota looking like he survived rather than won. Naito didn’t quite have the heart to hold onto the titles and Kota looks like the better man. It says a lot when the match ran over half an hour at the end of a 5+ hour show and I wanted it to go longer, so well done.
Post match Kota doesn’t even realize he won until the referee spells it out for him. Naito gets up and hands him the titles in the respect moment. With Naito gone, here’s Jay White to say that Kota isn’t the real champion, because tomorrow White is winning both titles to fulfill his own destino. White leaves and Kota says that that he’ll prove everything tomorrow. You know what he’s going to say here and he thanks the fans to wrap things up.
Commentary talks about how we need some good things going on and in the end, good will triumph over evil. They spend about ten minutes wrapping up the evening.
Overall Rating: A-. The show does run a little long and the Khan/Tanahashi match brings things down a lot, but that’s as good of a one two punch of a main event as I’ve seen in a long time. NJPW still has some quite probably the best wrestling going today and while the two nights thing is a lot, it’s not a lot every few weeks so it’s acceptable. Great show overall here, and the second night has a lot to top.
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