Welcome to TJRWrestling’s review of Wrestle Kingdom 15, Night One. I didn’t stay up late/early to watch the show and am instead reviewing it a bit later while watching the show on New Japan World. I strongly recommend subscribing, as it gives you access to lots of great NJPW content.
This will be an abridged review, with me going over some key points in each match and giving a rating out of 10. If you want more detailed reviews of particular matches, check out my 5-star/Almost 5-star match review series. In those reviews, I go into extensive detail on in-ring action and storytelling.
Pre-Show: Chase Owens, BUSHI, Bad Luck Fale and Toru Yano won the New Japan Rumble
The 21 participants (mistakenly reported as 22 in the preview), wrestling in this match were: Chase Owens, Tomohiro Ishii, Minoru Suzuki, Yuji Nagata, Toa Henare, Hirooki Goto, Yujiro Takahashi, YOSHI-HASHI, Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Rocky Romero (who is usually a commentator), DOUKI (who gets disqualified for using a ‘steel’ pipe), SHO, BUSHI, Tiger Mask IV, Bad Luck Fale, Gabriel Kidd, Yuya Uemura, Yota Tsuji, and Toru Yano.
It turns out you actually can eliminate people by throwing them over the top rope, on top of pinfalls and submissions. That’s now Toa Henare managed to eliminate both Minoru Suzuki and Yuji Nagata.
The match only had a few notable stories taking place. Chase Owens politicked his way to getting the #1 spot, and lasted until the very end. BUSHI spent most of the match outside the ring and attacked a few people as they entered the match. Bad Luck Fale was the monster that eliminated the most people. And Toru Yano was the last man in the match. But by the time he made it to the ring, the final four were decided. So Toru Yano didn’t have to do anything to guarantee himself a spot in the next night’s four-way match.
But beyond those stories, it was a plodding match without much excitement. Many of the wrestlers were in their late forties or fifties, and the actual drama was rather threadbare. Then again, this was the right match to put on the pre-show for people to watch as the Dome filled up.
Hiromu Takahashi defeated El Phantasmo to become the #1 Contender’s spot for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
The match started with ELP insulting Liger (who created the Super J Cup that ELP won) and Hiromu (Liger’s last-ever opponent) dropping him with cruiserweight moves. Hiromu soon found himself in danger after ELP landed a sunset flip powerbomb from the apron to the floor, which targeted Hiromu’s surgically-repaired neck. There was also an impressive move from ELP as he tightrope-walked across the top rope to land a sick quebrada.
ELP then went to work stomping on one limb after another, attacking both of Hiromu’s arms and legs. ELP also did a lot of showing off, acting like a mixture of Ric Flair, Sean Waltman, Hakushi and Edge. From there it transitioned into your prototypical modern juniors match, which means it featured: lots of kicks to the head, brutal-looking diving moves and top-rope versions of existing moves, and callbacks to previous wrestlers (Such a Styles Clash, V-Trigger, and One-Winged Angel attempt from ELP).
Ultimately, it wasn’t a decisive win for Hiromu as he countered a sudden finisher into a Frankensteiner for the win. Based on how this match ended, there’s a good chance ELP will demand a rematch or get involved in Hiromu’s future matches to get revenge.
Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) defeated Dangerous Tekkers (Taichi & Zack Sabre, Jr.) [c] to win the IWGP Tag Team Championships
GoD won the 2020 World Tag League to win this match. Also, Tama Tonga looks so wrong without his long hair and facial hair. This is technically a heel-vs-heel match, but TAICHI has been growing as a face in many fans’ eyes.
That said, my favorite part of this match was seeing ZSJ do his thing. He is simply amazing at goading people to attack him, only for him to out-grapple them into some vicious submission hold. He proved that with a clever sequence. GoD wanted to drop him with a Dudley Boyz-style top-rope superbomb, but he countered into a guillotine choke. Then he sacrificed himself to drop one of GoD with a Tower of Doom.
The last ten minutes of this contest were absolutely explosive. One big move after another. So many insane finisher teases and reversals. It looked for all the world that Taichi would actually be the hero of this match after taking so many moves from GoD and landing all his signature maneuvers in the hopes of making his mentor Toshiaki Kawada proud. Sadly, that never came to fruition as GoD used shenanigans and the numbers game to win.
It was better than it had any right to be, and I was pleasantly surprised at how it ended up being put together.
After this, there was a Jon Moxley promo warning that he was coming for whoever won this match.
KENTA defeated Satoshi Kojima to retain the IWGP United States Championship Challenge Rights Certificate
This was your typical shenanigans match with KENTA being a typical remorseless d**k. he attacked Kojima’s partner Tenzan. Kojima tried his best to play the role of the veteran that still had something left in the tank, and the crowd applauded his effort. They made the most noise as Kojima tried to mount a comeback with an apron DDT and Kobashi-style machine gun chops. But as good as he was for a New Japan Dad, KENTA was just too brutal.
I think this match went a bit too long. Although the audience was into Kojima’s comeback and hated KENTA for his cheap tricks, it just wasn’t realistic believing that Kojima would beat KENTA. The back-and-forth fights were solid, but I think this should’ve been a bit more decisive for KENTA. If a veteran whose body is falling apart could last this long against KENTA, then how should any younger, healthier wrestler be worried about him?
We follow this with a brief intermission during which NJPW show some commercials and ads, while they clean and disinfect the ring. good to see NJPW is taking cleanliness and sanitation during this pandemic very seriously.
Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated The Great O’Khan
This was disappointing. There was nothing spectacular or special about this match. It felt decidedly average in terms of action. The story was that Tanahashi hadn’t won a match in months, leading people to question if his time was indeed over. But Tanahashi’s status quo was reinstated at the expense of making something out of The Great O’Khan. There was no real drama from anything O’Khan did, and the real tension came whenever Tanahashi went for a big move. In other words, O’Khan was an afterthought in this match. They spent so much work building him up and he lost his two biggest matches. I have no idea why anyone would take him seriously going forward. He, like EVIL, has become a flop.
Kazuchika Okada defeated Will Ospreay
The first fifteen minutes in this match was very slow, but that was balanced with an incredibly brutal second half. After Ospreay countered a standing dropkick into a gorgeous sitting powerbomb, the match became a demolition derby. They went to incredible lengths to destroy each other, including Ospreay suplexing Okada over the steel guardrail through a table. They tried to have an explosive conclusion, but it didn’t come across that way to me. They didn’t tell that deep of a story and I didn’t get the idea that Ospreay ever stood a chance. He promised to end Okada’s career but the match never went into that territory beyond the table spot. Yes, he got a few tense near-falls and landed some stiff elbows, and even landed a Rainmaker on Okada. And yet, I never believed that Okada was in any real danger. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great match, but I’ve seen better from both men.
Kota Ibushi defeated Tetsuya Naito to win the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships
Thankfully, the main event was nothing short of awesome. These two wrestlers knew each other so well and it showed. They countered each other non-stop, they had each other scouted. And while Ibushi didn’t summon his homicidal alter-ego, he still went all out with his usual batshit insanity. Ibushi really showed how good of a balanced wrestler he has become. He was able to balance cruiserweight technique (as seen by his apron hurricanrana to the floor), with raw power and striking ability. He really came off as a complete wrestler. And Naito did a phenomenal job coming across as overconfident and wrestled like he thought he was ‘better’ than Ibushi. What this lacked in pure psychology is made up in being a brutal war in which both wrestlers went to hell and back to win. Even with the closing segment being mostly finisher spam, it was still a must-see match.
— NJPW Global (@njpwglobal) January 4, 2021
Final rating: 7.5/10
This was basically a two-match show, with the final two matches being the best. Honestly, I was disappointed in some areas and delightfully surprised in others. The tag title match was way better than I thought it would be and the main event was everything I expected. But beyond that, everything else was disappointing. Hiromu and ELP didn’t have the barn burner I was expecting. KENTA did what he could with Kojima but it wasn’t great. The booking of the Tanahashi-O’Khan match made absolutely no sense beyond telling the story that Tanahashi can still wrestle (but that should be a given at this point because, duh, it’s Tanahashi). And Okada/Ospreay was nowhere near the level of greatness expected of them.
Maybe the NJPW wrestlers knew they weren’t wrestling in front of a full capacity Tokyo Dome and decided not to go full throttle on this night. But this was nowhere near the same level of previous Wrestle Kingdom events. Hopefully things will be more exciting on the second night.