Wrestling Review: NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 15 (2021) (Night 1)

After an interrupted and unbelievable 2020, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) will kick off the new year with a bang for the first of two nights of action at Wrestle Kingdom 15. Perhaps nobody in wrestling have had a more up and down year than the two men in the main event, current dual IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champion, Tetsuya Naito, and his challenger, Kota Ibushi. While Naito had done battle with EVIL for the top gold, Ibushi had to run through the G1 Climax, and won the event before losing his contendership briefcase against Jay White. The winner of Naito/Ibushi will face White tomorrow night, but knowing the history of Naito and Ibushi, there may be nothing left of either man. Two special singles matches will also take place on this first night of action, as The Empire, the new villainous team of Will Ospreay and the Great-O-Khan, will face two of the top stars in all of NJPW, Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi, respectively. A Wrestle Kingdom win for either Ospreay or O-Khan would be a huge stepping stone, especially over stars the calibres of Okada and Tanahashi, respectively.

Also on night one of Wrestle Kingdom, the winners of various touraments and competitions will get their rewards. Kicking off the show will be a junior heavyweight bout between two of 2020’s tournament winners, as the winner of the Best of the Super Jr. 27 tournament, Hiromu Takahashi faces off with the 2020 Super J-Cup winner, El Phantasmo. The IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, Dangerous Tekkers (Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr.) will face off with the winners of the World Tag League, The Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) for the tag team titles, while KENTA will defend his IWGP United States Championships briefcase against Satoshi Kojima, where the winner will face a date with the current title holder, Jon Moxley.

+ Tetsuya Naito (c) vs Kota Ibushi (IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Championships): it is a bit tough to review this, just because we all knew how it was going to go, and then it did. Both guys took monstrous bumps directly on their heads and necks, all in the pursit of the prize they each hold dearest — in both storyline and I imagine in real life. Ibushi looked JACKED from the moment he made his entrance, and he used that muscle for a few crazy power spots. Naito, meanwhile, looked as tranquilo as always, but that made his explosive offence even more spectacular. This was a worthy main event after a string of good to great matches
+ Kazuchika Okada vs Will Ospreay: Kazuchika Okada did not have a good 2020, no matter what the company line may be. This bad guy turn for Ospreay has been a long time coming, but it did mean that I did not really care for either guy in this match. In that regard, therefore, I got nothing from this. In regards to the technical skills of each guy, hot damn they were on fire, and this was perhaps the best ‘big match’ of Ospreay’s NJPW career so far
+ Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Great-O-Khan: I’m a big believer in O-Khan, and I was really looking forward to how this was handled. I’ve made no secrets that I think Tanahashi is further on the decline of his career than many want to admit, and O-Khan had a lot to do to bounce back from his disappointing loss to Okada at Power Struggle. Both men looked good, especially as O-Khan got some more focus to play the monster bad guy against the fan favourite Tanahashi. This wasn’t amazing, but I enjoyed it
+ KENTA (c) vs Satoshi Kojima (IWGP US Championship Briefcase Match): Kojima is just the best, isn’t he? If Yuji Nagata got to briefly shine in his bouts with Minoru Suzuki, then Kojima deserves to get a few more high-profile matches, and this one against KENTA was a really good start. Both KENTA/Moxley and Kojima/Moxley sound like fantastic matches, so whoever won I was going to be happy. KENTA is such a dick, and Kojima is beloved by everyone that this had so much intensity before they even really did anything. I loved it
+ Dangerous Tekkers (Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr.) (c) vs Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (IWGP Tag Team Championships): this match was bloody fantastic, and probably the best match on the show. Taichi and Sabre both had that huge underdog, babyface fire about them (despite the fact I think both teams are bad guys?) and the GoD boys were as slimy and cheaty as ever. I think Tanga Loa is underrated in the GoD duo, but Tama has had his chances to shine in singles action and never quite delivered. Still, this was a fantastic tag team match and definitely worthy of being on a Wrestle Kingdom show

Hiromu Takahashi (Best of Super Jr. 27 Winner) vs El Phantasmo (Super J-Cup 2020 Winner): the winner is set to face Taiji Ishimori tomorrow night, and frankly I’m okay with the upcoming match. But the match itself was really disappointing. It looked like ELP injured himself early on a frankly phenomenal dive and the match got kind of weird from there. I know tomorrow night will be better
New Japan Ranbo: even as far as battle royales go, this was pretty rough. The match it set up for tomorrow night should be fine, but don’t bother watching this. This was a waste of Ishii, Suzuki, Goto, Nagata etc.

Should you watch this event: Despite my opinion that the wrong man won almost every match on this show, it was still really good. I’ve missed big New Japan shows, and even without the crowd being able to make a lot of noise, the show had that ‘big event’ atmosphere about it, especially in the final two matches. The moments where the crowd got audible, despite not meaning to, made the matches so much better.

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