It’s January 4th and Wrestling Kingdom 15’s night one has just come to a close. We saw a clash of stars as NJPW set out to create a memorable show to kick off the new year. Tonight we had a solid set of matches including determining who will face off for the KOPW trophy, Taiji Ishimori’s next opponent, the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions and most importantly, The IWGP Heavyweight Double Champion. Let’s dive in and find out who gets draped in gold.
Chase Owens, Bad Luck Fale, BUSHI and Toru Yano are KOPW 2021 Finalists
We kick off the action with the Pre-Show New Japan Rumble to determine who will square off tomorrow for the KOPW 2021 trophy. Entrants included Chase Owens, Tomohiro Ishii, Minoru Suzuki, Yuji Nagata, Toa Henare, Hirooki Goto, Yujiro Takahashi, Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Rocky Romero, Douki, SHO, BUSHI, Tiger Mask, Bad Luck Fale, Gabriel Kidd, Yuya Uemura, Yota Tsuji and KOPW 2020 Champion Toru Yano. Altogether an eclectic mix, there were sprinklings of the stories to come in 2021. Minoru Suzuki and Yuji Nagata’s war spilled out of the ring after both were eliminated by Toa Henare showing there’s no end to the violence Minoru Suzuki wants to dish out. When Young Lions Gabriel Kidd, Yuya Uemura and Yota Tsuji finally made their way into the ring, the three began to work together to try and eliminate Bad Luck Fale. Sadly, this attempted coup against the general failed as all three were soundly eliminated. For the finale, Toru Yano begins to make his way to the ring only to learn by the time he gets there, he has already won. Thanks to some smart meddling by BUSHI and the collective power of Bullet Club, tomorrow’s finalist for the KOPW 2021 Trophy will be Chase Owens (who was the very first entrant!) Bad Luck Fale, BUSHI and Toru Yano (who succeeds without having to lift a finger!)
Hiromu Takahashi defeats El-Phantasmo
Wrestle Kingdom 15 begins properly with a bout between Best of Super Junior winner Hiromu Takahashi and Super J-Cup champion El-Phantasmo. As both men made their entrance, the disrespect and contempt both men had for each other was palpable. El-Phantasmo’s taunting wound up being the downfall for the match. Both wrestlers displayed immense athleticism including an early scramble to deal some damage outside of the ring. El-Phantasmo wound up trying to steal the show many times. His many callbacks to Bullet Club alum perhaps showing his own intentions for his future. He mocked Kenny Omega’s terminator dive, managed to land a Styles Clash and even tried to scramble for a One Winged Angel. Sadly for him, all the things that made those past members of Bullet Club successful just weren’t enough to take out Hiromu Takahashi. Hiromu faced an onslaught of punishment. There seemed to be something in El-P’s boot as he used that to focus on all the limbs of Hiromu. Hiromu’s hand also took a great deal of damage throughout the match that could spell trouble. After a scramble of pinning predicaments, Hiromu Takahashi manages to counter a CR2 with a roll up pin to win and secure his Night 2 aspirations against Taiji Ishimori.
Guerillas of Destiny defeat Dangerous Tekkers
The second match on the main card sees Guerillas of Destiny – Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa try to secure their first ever Wrestle Kingdom victory against current IWGP Heavyweight Tag Champions the Dangerous Tekkers – Zach Sabre Jr. and Taichi. Both teams are accompanied by a third man for their respective corners. Jado for GoD and Douki for the Dangerous Tekkers. As the match begins, both sides waste no time trying to lay out as much violence as they can for a victory. Fouling played a big role in each team’s strategy tonight. Taichi kicked off the foul play by employing a choke to Tama that led to some isolation offense. Jado can’t help himself either as he played spoiler to any momentum the Tekkers tried to gain. As GoD regain control of the match, a surprisingly hot tag to ZSJ leads to a favorable turn for the defending champions. This match really was a tug of war that reached a hectic climax. ZSJ found himself on the receiving end of some devastating offense from the GoD but was able to turn it around and create a Wrestle Kingdom moment for him and his partner. After some setup, Taichi managed to super power bomb ZSJ who landed his own super vertical suplex on Tanga Loa for a nearfall. Sadly this wasn’t enough for the Tekkers as Tama Tonga managed to Gun Stun ZSJ leaving Taichi to his own devices. Unwilling to back down, Taichi removes his pants to try and turn the momentum back in his favor but eats a faceful of the Iron Claw allowing GoD to land their finisher and steal a victory from the now-former champs.
In the lull after the match, Jon Moxley finally speaks and addresses whoever wants to get in the ring with him.
KENTA defeats Satoshi Kojima
Kenta looks to continue his string of defenses as he cements his reign as the (interim?) IWGP US Heavyweight Champion. Expectations were admittedly low for me but what is usually a lethargic start wound up picking up the pace for an explosive match between the irritated outsider and beloved veteran. Early in the match, Kenta seemed to be more focused on Tenzan’s presence at ringside. As a member of the Bullet Club, Kenta is more than familiar with the advantages having a second at ringside can provide a wrestler. He takes care of this issue after taking out Tenzan with the barriers. When the action makes its way back to the ring, Kojima shows the world that he’s still a threat to behold gaining quick advantages over Kenta. A series of machine gun chops in the corner even brought enough momentum to let out his famous battlecry. The pathway to victory for Kojima revolved all around his lariat but Kenta just kept finding ways to escape the devastating blow. Sadly, for all the moxie Kojima displayed, Kenta still found a way to hit the Go 2 Sleep for the victory.
As production takes a break to clean and disinfect the ring, New Japan Pro Wrestling quickly announces a major development for Western fans. New Japan Pro Wrestling will find its way to US and UK broadcasting.
Hiroshi Tanahashi defeats Great O-Khan
A returning upstart tries to snatch victory away from the man who carried the burdens of NJPW on his shoulders. This match is a big test for Great O-Khan as what he stands to gain is immense compared to what Hiroshi Tanahashi has to lose. The action starts off slow as both men jockey for control and demonstrate their mastery of mat wrestling. For much of the match, O-Khan is in the driver’s seat. After a devastating suplex onto the entrance ramp, O-Khan nearly wins as Tanahashi narrowly makes it back to the ring on the 18-count. Whenever Tanahashi is able to gain momentum and channel the hopes and dreams of the crowd, O-Khan becomes an immovable object putting a stop to any advantage. Despite all this, The Ace somehow manages to dig deep into his reserves and eke out a victory. O-Khan was able to lock in his claw and even tried to slam Tanahashi onto a chair in the center of the ring. Tanahashi was able to escape this predicament and when faced with the decision to take a shortcut with the chair, he tosses that aside and sets O-Khan up for not one but two High Fly Flows for the win. Tanahashi still retains the fire to be a top competitor but the damage he’s sustaining against the new generation of stars is starting to add up. How long will Tanahashi’s body take him?
Kazuchika Okada defeats Will Ospreay
The story of the night was a war between a man who hates his former mentor with all his heart and wants to prove he’s better than one of the greatest of all time and the heartbroken leader who has to put to rest a protege he took under his wing mirroring much of his own experiences in wrestling. Both men waste no time as their violence spills out of the ring. For every advantage Ospreay gains, Okada wrenches any control from his fingers. Okada’s focus was on Ospreay’s neck and back, looking to secure the Money Clip to put down the Commonwealth King. Still, the fire in Ospreay overshadowed just how much he threw away in betraying the Rainmaker. When Ospreay manages to suplex Okada onto the timekeeper’s table, he refuses to win by countout and drags Okada back into the ring. This proves to be a mistake as Okada counters any offense Ospreay throws his way. Still, Okada’s insistence on securing the Money Clip is met with tenacious escapes from Ospreay. When Okada climbs to the toprope, Ospreay cuts off any ideas the Rainmaker has and lands a picture-perfect Spanish Fly. Ospreay then manages to land the Oscutter for a nearfall. Okada kicking out sends Ospreay into a fit of rage as he stomps out Okada’s head. Wanting to bring this war to an end, Ospreay readies his Hidden Blade. He eats a dropkick for his trouble and gets set up to eat a spinning Rainmaker from Okada leading to another Money Clip submission. Ospreay’s tenacity knows no bounds though because he escapes the hold for a third time and lands his own Tombstone Piledriver and steals Okada’s Rainmaker for a nearfall. Still, Okada perseveres and kicks out of this predicament. Will Ospreay, trying to finish the match on his own terms, proved ineffective as Okada counters the Storm Breaker with a sitout Tombstone Piledriver. Instead of trying for the Money Clip for a fourth time, Kazuchika Okada unseals the Rainmaker to secure his victory.
Kota Ibushi defeats Tetsuya Naito
On our main event for Night 1 of Wrestle Kingdom, Kota Ibushi seeks to ascend to godhood and take down Tetsuya Naito. The concern for both men was palpable as the crowd, commentators and medical staff braced themselves for an all out war. The pace picks up quickly as both wrestlers find themselves outside of the ring. When a brutal suplex onto the ramp finds Ibushi rocked, Naito makes his way back into the ring for a near-countout victory. Ibushi manages to return to the ring and is met with a series of offense to the back of his head and neck. For a brief moment, Kota Ibushi manages to turn the tide but Tetsuya Naito shows Ibushi why he is the champion. When Naito tries to press his advantage with a sliding dropkick, Ibushi performs a well scouted counter with a double stomp to the gut. Tetsuya Naito then drags Ibushi to the corner with an assault of elbow strikes but Ibushi endures. Taking the action to the apron, Kota Ibushi lands a death defying Hurrcanrana to the floor leaving Tetsuya Naito rocked for a 19-count. Naito returns the favor with a toprope Poisonrana to help set up a Destino finish. These final minutes proved to be a snappy scramble to try and edge out any advantage for a win. Ibushi counters a Destino attempt and he tries to set up a Kamigoye. Naito escapes this and delivers a Destino for his trouble. After kicking out, Ibushi escapes a second Destino attempt. Both men exhausted on the floor, try to get back to their feet and begin an exchange of blows which Ibushi wins out on. Landing his Kamigoye, Kota Ibushi gets a nearfall. It’s here that Kota Ibushi makes a mistake as he digs deep into his past to try and win with the Phoenix Splash. This moment of hesitation gave enough time for Tetsuya Naito to escape and land a destino after Ibushi whiffs and slams the mat. This still wasn’t enough to put down Ibushi as he kicked out and landed a second Kamigoye in the scramble. Kota Ibushi exposes his knee in order to seal his victory but Tetsuya Naito still has signs of life despite taking 2 Kamigoyes. In one last attempt to land another Destino on Kota Ibushi, Tetsuya Naito eats a V-Trigger counter into an exposed knee Kamigoye. Ibushi on the brink of exhaustion manages to pin Naito and win, marking his first ever victory for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and etching his name in history. Still numb to his victory, Kota tries to pin Naito for a second time only for the referee to tell him that he has already won. Kota Ibushi after a prolonged battle is finally a god. His celebration is short-lived though as Jay White makes his way to the ring in order to taunt Ibushi and let him know that White is waiting for him on Night 2 of Wrestle Kingdom. That wasn’t enough to put a damper on Kota Ibushi’s career defining moment though as he addresses the crowd for the first time as IWGP Double Champion.
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