By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
New Japan Pro Wrestling “Wrestle Kingdom 15 – Night One”
January 4, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan at the Tokyo Dome
Broadcast live on New Japan World and FITE TV
Wrestle Kingdom 15 Pre-Show
The English broadcast team was Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton…
1. New Japan Rumble (Rambo match). Chase Owens and Tomohiro Ishii were the first entrants. Kelly noted that Owens politicked to be the first entrant. Minoru Suzuki was the third entrant. The fourth entrant was Yuji Nagata. The fifth entrant was Toa Henare. He went to work on Ishii until he was hit from behind by Owens.
The sixth entrant was Hirooki Goto. Suzuki and Nagata fought on the apron until they were both knocked to the floor and eliminated by Henare. The seventh entrant was Yujiro Takahashi. Henare threw a rough looking superkick at Ishii, then charged him and was dumped over the top rope by Ishii.
The eighth entrant was Yoshi-Hashi. The ninth entrant was Togi Makabe, who quickly elimanted Yoshi-Hashi and Goto. The tenth entrant was Tomoaki Honma, who saved his tag partner Makabe from being eliminated. Moments later, Honma ended up kicking Makabe and then worked him
The 11th entrant was Hiroyoshi Tenzan, who joined Honma in eliminating Makabe. Honma and Makabe followed up by fighting one another. The 12th entrant was Rocky Romero. Kelly said Romero was the first surprise entrant because he was supposed to be inactive. Kelly also worked in a plug for the New Japan Strong show, which he said would return Friday night on New Japan World.
The 13th entrant was Douki. Kelly gave a shout-out to broadcast team member Gino Gambino. He said Gambino could not attend this year, then added that he will eventually return. Douki was eliminated from the match by DQ for using a steel pipe as a weapon on Romero. The 14th entrant was Sho, who spared Douki to save Romero.
The 15th entrant was Bushi. Takahashi charged someone near the ropes. The wrestler moved and Takahashi ended up tumbling over the top rope to eliminate himself. The 16th entrant was Tiger Mask, who tried to pin Romero, but only got a two count (pinfalls count as eliminations).
The 17th entrant was Bad Luck Fale. Ishii and Owens were fighting on the apron when Fale eliminated Ishii. The 18th entrant was Gabriel Kidd. Kelly noted that Honma and Tenzan were eliminated. Three wrestlers ganged up on Fale in an attempt to push him over the top rope, but Owens saved him.
The 19th entrant was Yuya Uemura. Fale eliminated Sho. Kelly and Charlton said Romero was eliminated. Fale eliminated Tiger Mask. Romero checked in with Kelly and said he needed about ten minutes and would join them on commentary(!). The 20th entrant was Yota Tsuji.
The 21st entrant was Toru Yano. Kidd was eliminated by Owens. Tsuji was eliminated. Fale and Owens eliminated Uemura. The referee called for the bell once the match was down to four wrestlers, meaning Yano was declared a winner even though he never actually entered the ring.
Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens, Bushi, and Toru Yano were the final four men the New Japan Rambo.
Powell’s POV: So much for having 22 entrants. The four winners will meet on night two in a four-way for the King of Pro Wrestling 2021 trophy. This was more straight forward than usual in that they didn’t have any true surprise entrants. Of course, we’re still in a pandemic, so it is what it is. Yano winning without even entering the ring was totally Yano. I’m never a fan of battle royals ending with multiple winners. Perhaps they could fight to the finish and then have a gauntlet match in the order of the final four for the KOPW trophy if they decide to do this in future years? Probably not.
Wrestle Kingdom 15 Night One Main Show
The ring announcer wore a Don King style wig and then introduced Riki Choshu, who carried a crying child (grandson) to the ring with him. Choshu spoke in Japanese and wished the fans a happy new year. A video package aired and listed each of the matches with clips of the ring announcer in between.
The English broadcast team was Kevin Kelly, Rocky Romero, and Chris Charlton. “It’s January 4 and you know what that means,” Romero said in a tribute to the late Jon Huber (Brodie Lee/Luke Harper). Kelly dedicated the broadcast to Huber.
1. Hiromu Takahashi vs. El Phantasmo for a shot at the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title. The winner will challenge Taiji Ishimori on WK15 night two. Phantasmo was disrespectful regarding Jushin Liger. Phantasmo performed an early sunset bomb from the apron to ringside. Phantasmo was dominant early and did a Terminator clap in a mocking way. Takahashi dropkicked him and took offensive control briefly, but Phantasmo stomped his foot to regain control.
Later, Phantasmo seemed to intentionally bump the referee. REF BUMP!. Phantasmo performed a low blow. He followed up with a top rope huracanrana and then a nice splash for a near fall. Phantasmo performed a Styles Clash for another near fall. Phantasmo wanted to perform a One Winged Angel, but Takahashi came back briefly. Phantasmo countered a Time Bomb into a pin for a good near fall. Phantasmo went for his CR2 finisher, but Takahashi countered into a pin and got the three count…
Hiromu Takahashi defeated El Phantasmo in 17:50 to earn a shot at the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title at Wrestle Kingdom 15 night two.
Powell’s POV: A good match to open the main card. I haven’t kept close tabs on NJPW during the pandemic, so forgive me if there are more moments of obliviousness than usual. Having said that, Phantasmo had some well executed near falls and yet even I never really bought into the idea of him winning this match. Still, it was an entertaining start to the show. Takahashi also sold a hand injury, which the broadcast team suggested could be a factor in his title match on night two.
2. Zack Sabre Jr. and Taichi (w/Douki) vs. “Guerrillas of Destiny” Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa (w/Jado) for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Titles. The broadcast team noted that the GOD duo had yet to win at the Tokyo Dome. Loa had Sabre pinned at roughly 12:20 following a powerbomb, but Tacichi broke it up.
GOD set up for a super powerbomb on Sabre, who applied a guillotine choke on Loa on the ropes. Taichi took out Tonga, then performed a powerbomb on his own partner while he superplexed Loa, which led to a near fall. Taichi threw a kick at Tonga and covered him for another two count.
A short time later, the champions took turns throwing kicks at Tonga. Jado entered the ring and was taken out. GOD used the distraction to hit Tachi with the iron fist and then scored the pin…
“Guerrillas of Destiny” Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa defeated Zack Sabre Jr. and Taichi in 19:20 to win the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Titles.
Powell’s POV: An enjoyable match until the finish. The iron glove does nothing for me. GOD are now seven-time IWGP Heavyweight Tag Champions. On a side note, NJPW stat man Chris Samsa (@TheChrisSamsa) wrote that the tag titles have changed hands eight years in a row at the Tokyo Dome.
A video package aired with Jon Moxley announcing that he would be coming for the person who ends up leaving with the right to challenge contract for his IWGP U.S. Championship…
3. Kenta vs. Satoshi Kojima (w/Hiroyoshi Tenzan) for the IWGP U.S. Title right to challenge contract. Kenta brought the right to challenge briefcase to the ring with him. The broadcast team noted that Juice Robinson was scheduled to face Kenta, but he suffered a broken orbital bone. Kenta went after Tenzan early. Kojima tried to help and ended up being run into his tag partner.
Kenta dominated the offense until Kojima caught him with a DDT on the ring apron. Kenta came back with a DDT of his own back inside the ring. Kenta followed up with a pair of running dropkicks, then went up top and performed a double stomp for a near fall. Kojima came back and removed his elbow pad, but Kenta caught him charging and performed a powerslam.
Kenta went to ringside and grabbed the briefcase. The referee tried to stop him, but Kenta knocked him down. Kojima knocked the briefcase away and then knocked Kenta down for a near fall. Kojima came back with a series of strikes and a big forearm. Kenta hit Kojima with a series of palm strikes and a running knee for a two count. Kenta hoisted up Kojima and performed a GTS for the win…
Kenta defeated Satoshi Kojima in 14:10 to retain the IWGP U.S. Title right to challenge contract.
Powell’s POV: A good match for what it was. Kenta took the majority of the match, and the legend got the late offensive flurry before he was beaten clean. Moxley didn’t indicate when he will be returning to NJPW, but I’m looking forward to his match with Kenta.
A video aired with Tetsuya Naito in a dinner where he’d apparently eaten massive amounts of food based on the number of plates that were stacked up next to him. A man showed up wearing a suit and they spoke in Japanese. A graphic for New Japan Strong Spirits was shown at the end of the video. Charlton explained that New Japan is coming to smart phone gaming…
Powell’s POV: Who knew that Naito was a member of the Big Eater’s Club? I can’t say that a mobile game does much for me. Let me know when I can stream New Japan World on Roku. Anyway, they didn’t say how long the intermission would be. A graphic lists “cleaning and disinfection.”
4. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. The Great-O-Khan. Kelly ran through the impressive list of victories that Tanahashi has had at Wrestle Kingdom, then noted that Chris Jericho forced him to submit last year. O-Khan was dominant early on and slammed Tanahashi onto the entrance ramp. Tanahashi made a brief comeback, but O-Khan cut him off. Tanahashi sold knee pain.
Tanahashi rallied and performed a sling blade clothesline and then got a two count. Tanahashi went up top for his finisher, but O-Khan cut him off with a claw and pulled him from the ropes. O-Khan applied an abdominal stretch while loosely holding onto the claw. O-Khan suplexed Tanahashi for a near fall.
O-Khan reapplied a claw and went for his Eliminator onto a chair, but Tanahashi escaped and performed a neckbreaker. Tanahashi picked up the chair and teased using it as a weapon, then just tossed it aside casually. Tanahashi got a near fall off a dragon suplex. Tanahashi performed the High Fly Flow to the back of O-Khan, then followed up with a second onto his chest and scored the pin…
Hiroshi Tanahashi beat The Great-O-Khan in 17:5.
Powell’s POV: This was underwhelming for a Tanahashi match at the Tokyo Dome. Tanahashi did what he could to make it work and it seemed like the crowd was happy to see him perform the greatest hits, but The Great-O-Khan was just an underwhelming opponent. He completely lost me with that ridiculously loose face claw.
A video package set up the next match…
5. Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay (w/Bea Priestly). Okada backed Ospreay into the ropes and teased not giving him a clean break. When Okada granted the clean break, Ospreay took a shot at him. Okada went on the offensive until he was distracted by Priestly, which led to Ospreay taking offensive control.
Later, Okada caught Ospreay seated on the top rope with a dropkick that knocked him to ringside. Back inside the ring, Okaka performed a missile dropkick. Ospreay escaped a move attempt and caught Okada with a kick on the ropes, then followed up with a move that led to a two count.
Ospreay caught Okada going for a dropkick and powerbombed him on the way down for a near fall just before 20:00. Both wrestlers ended up at ringside where Okada went for a tombstone piledriver, but Ospreay escaped and ended up standing on one of the broadcast tables. They jockeyed for position and eventually Ospreay suplexed Okada through the table.
Ospreay could have won by count-out, but he brought Okada back inside the ring and picked up a couple of good near falls. Okada avoided a Stormbreaker on the apron. Ospreay went for an OsCutter, but Okada blocked it and performed a tombstone piledriver on the apron. Both men fell to the floor.
Okada returned to the ring first. Ospreay started to return to the ring, but Okada pulled him in and clotheslined him. Okada performed a dropkick and then applied a Money Clip. Okada released the hold and performed another tombstone, then reapplied the hold. Okada used Ospreay to knock Priestly off the apron, then reapplied the hold. Ospreay reached the ropes with his feet to break it.
Okada threw some elbows and boots to the head of Ospreay. Okada fired back with a slap. Okada smiled, then hit him with another elbow. Both men ended up on the ropes and traded strikes. Okada got the better of it by knocking Ospreay into the ring with a forearm, but Ospreay shot right up and caught him with a kick. Ospreay performed a Spanish Fly for a near fall.
Ospreay went for the OsCutter, but Okada blocked it. Ospreay threw a big forearm and then hit the OsCutter for a near fall that Okada telegraphed by watching the referee’s count. Ospreay knelt over Okada and slammed him several times, then stood up and stomped him. The referee stepped in, but Ospreay shoved him down and continued to stomp away.
Ospreay threw a forearm to the back of Okada’s head. Ospreay set up for a move, but Okada cut him off with a dropkick. Ospreay ducked a Rainmaker and then went for a OsCutter, but Okada caught him on the way down with a move. Moments later, Ospreay performed a tombstone piledriver and then called for a Rainmaker, which he connected with and then covered Okada for a great near fall at 35:00. Okada came back with a tombstone piledriver and a Rainmaker, then scored the pin.
Kazuchika Okada defeated Will Ospreay in 35:45.
Afterward, Okada knelt over the fallen Ospreay and spoke. Ospreay rolled to ringside and then Okada played to the crowd…
Powell’s POV: The first truly great match of the night. They did a great job of playing into the emotion of their story and produced a fantastic match. Excellent work from both men.
A video package set up the main event…
6. Tetsuya Naito vs. Kota Ibushi for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and IWGP Intercontinental Championship. Romero said that the ringside doctor would be watching closely “because these two psychopaths” would have a battle. Ibushi performed a huracanrana just before 5:00 that sent Naito to ringside. Ibushi set up for a move, but Naito returned to the ring and swept his legs.
Both men ended up back at ringside. Naito tripped Ibushi on the apron, then performed a suplex on the ramp. Ibushi eventually returned to the ring to beat the referee’s count. Later, Naito performed a neckbreaker at ringside. Naito placed Ibushi over the apron and performed another neckbreaker. Naito took Ibushi back inside the ring and used another neckbreaker, then applied a Full Nelson style move with his legs at 13:30.
Ibushi came back with a power slam and then went for a moonsault, but Naito avoided it and performed another submission hold with his legs around the face and neck of Ibushi, who reached the ropes with his foot to break it. Ibushi threw forearms, which Naito no-sold with a smile and then knocked Ibushi down. Naito performed Gloria for a two count.
Ibushi caught Naito on the ropes and ended up performing a Pele style kick. Both men ended up on the apron. Ibushi went for a piledriver. Naito blocked the move and then backdropped Ibushi, who came right back with a huracanrana to the floor. Naito came up holding his left knee at 20:40. Naito beat the referee’s count by returning to the ring at nineteen.
A short time later, Naito performed a Poison Rana that pulled Ibushi from the ropes. Ibushi bounced right back with a couple of big kicks. Naito avoided the Kamigoye and countered into Destino for a near fall. Naito went for another Destino, but Ibushi countered into a leaping tombstone piledriver. Ibushi took control and hit a Kamigoye for a near fall. Ibushi acted stunned that it didn’t get him the win.
Ibushi went to the top and went for a move, but Naito moved. Naito performed Destino for a close near fall. Naito went for a Destino, but Ibushi blocked it. Naito threw some elbows. Ibushi knocked him down with a kick. Ibushi connected with another Kamigoye and got a close near fall. Ibushi once again acted shocked that he didn’t get the pin. Ibushi lowered his kneepad.
Naito caught Ibushi with a kick and a ended up going for Destino, but Ibushi caught him. Ibushi blasted Naito with a pair of Kamigoye knee strikes and pinned him clean.
Kota Ibushi defeated Tetsuya Naito in 31:20 to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and IWGP Intercontinental Championship.
Afterward, both men laid side by side on the mat. Ibushi sat up and tried to cover Naito. The referee informed him that he already won and then raised his hand. Naito got to his feet and took the title belts away from the referee. Naito ended up presenting the belts to Ibushi and then left the ring.
Ibushi celebrated with the title belts. Jay White and Gedo walked to the ring. White brought his right to challenge briefcase with him. White entered the ring and mockingly congratulated Ibushi. He asked if they could get him some ice because he’s probably sore after that battle. White said everyone knows that Ibushi isn’t the real champion.
White told Ibushi to enjoy the moment because it would only last for one night. White said he would take everything from Ibushi and expose him for the fraud that he is. White said whenever Ibushi reaches for the heights he’s always wanted to be at, he would always be there to pull him down. White said Ibushi would play a vital role when he wins both titles. White told Ibushi to enjoy it, then left the ring.
Ibushi spoke in Japanese and celebrated with his title belts before walking to the stage. Kelly spoke about how special it was to be back at ringside and said it was a step forward (pandemic). Kelly said every day is a gift. Pyro shot off while Ibushi stood on the stage and then he headed to the back.
Powell’s POV: A terrific main event with some awesome near falls. Excellent drama. I didn’t have a strong feeling regarding the outcome, so I was buying into the big near falls. I loved the post match scene with Ibushi acting like he didn’t realize that he’d won the match. They can lean into how weary and potentially injured (from a storyline perspective) Ibushi is on night two when he defends the title against White.
Overall, the last two matches absolutely made the show. The undercard wasn’t bad, but it didn’t feel truly special. Let me know what you thought of night one by voting for the best match and grading the overall show below. Stop back on Tuesday morning for my live review of night two. In the meantime, get some sleep.