Wrestling Review: NJPW Wrestle Grand Slam in MetLife Dome (2021) (Night 1)

New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) heads to the MetLife Dome in Saitama, Japan, for the first of two huge nights of action under the Wrestle Grand Slam banner. In the main event, the former tag team champions once known as the Golden Aces, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kota Ibushi, will collide in a match for Tanahashi’s recently won IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship. Tanahashi won the gold at the recent NJPW Resurgence show, and will be looking to ensure he does not lose it in his first defence. Kazuchika Okada and Jeff Cobb will also renew hostilities, following their fantastic match-up at the Wrestle Grand Slam in Tokyo Dome event just two months ago. The Provisional King of Pro Wrestling Trophy will also be on the line as defending trophy holder, Chase Owens, must face off with Toru Yano in an I Quit match. These sorts of matches are rare in NJPW, and while Chase Owens may have the Bullet Club at his disposal, it would be foolish to count out Toru Yano’s most violent past. The Roppongi 3K boys have imploded, and tonight’s show will be their first ever one on one match, with both SHO and YOH looking to make a statement at the expense of the other. In the opening contest, the current IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, Robbie Eagles, will team with Tiger Mask IV to face the due from Los Ingobernables de Japon, BUSHI and Eagles’ impending title challenge, Hiromu Takahashi.

+ Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs Kota Ibushi (IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship): just looking at the names involved you should know this was a good match. I was surprised that Tanahashi won the US title from Lance Archer when he did, but it worked out well as now Ibushi has a chance to win the one championship he has not won in NJPW. There was a lot of good back and forth action here, including a duelling forearm spot that was fantastic, and even a clear botch from one guy was so perfectly covered. What else to say except that this was good on paper, and good in execution
+ Kazuchika Okada vs Jeff Cobb (w/ Great-O-Khan): now that it’s in the past, I can say without spoilers that Cobb losing to Okada the way he did at the previous Wrestle Grand Slam show was a travesty. Though the match was good, it really did make Cobb look like he didn’t deserve to be in the ring with Okada. Thankfully, this match was a bit more even, with Cobb’s power and Okada’s new, heavier focus on striking contrasting well to make for a really good match. If there is another match incoming, I’d really like for something to be on the line, even if that’s just a number one contendership or something
+ SHO vs YOH: I really liked this, especially now that SHO really gets to show off what he can do. YOH’s injury in the New Japan Cup last year could not have happened at a worse time, but SHO’s resulting singles run really showed that he could do more than just be a junior tag guy. The changes in SHO’s demeanour here to be more of a dirtbag bad guy made him look like an all new wrestler, and that accentuated YOH’s underdog heroic style. This was a really good match
+ Flying Tigers (Robbie Eagles & Tiger Mask IV) vs Los Ingobernables de Japon (Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI): this was mostly to build up tomorrow night’s Eagles/Hiromu match, but I also got a kick out of the LIJ juniors finally teaming up again after so long. Eagles’ win over El Desperado was a shock, and frankly I was surprised there was no rematch of any kind between those two, but I am not complaining as the teases of Hiromu/Eagles in this match have me very excited for tomorrow night. This match tonight was fine, but hardly ground-breaking

Chase Owens (c) vs Toru Yano (I Quit Match for the KOPW Trophy): this was a very different kind of match than I am used to in a NJPW ring, which undoubtedly the point going in, but frankly I didn’t care for it. To be vague, Yano has a way that makes his comedy or violent stylings make sense as required, but I’ll never accept Chase Owens as a no DQ specialist of any kind. The KOPW provisional trophy has been an interesting addition to NJPW as a whole, but it’s just “another title” at the moment. I didn’t care for this

> I didn’t catch the Stardom tag team match, but generally speaking I’m all for the Stardom wrestlers getting a stage to shine in front of the NJPW crowd

Should you watch this event: Overall, this was a pretty good show. I don’t think any of the matches were blow away contests, but it was an easy 2.5 to 3 hour show which will go by even quick when you just skip Owens/Yano.

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