New Japan Pro Wrestling
Wrestle Kingdom 15 – Night 1
January 4, 2021
Watch: NJPW World
Meet our previewers
August Baker (@augustbaker12): This has been one weird year, huh? This will be August’s 6th Wrestle Kingdom, and by far the one he’s the most unsure about.
J Michael: On December 8, I ordered my wife really cool What We Do in the Shadows socks from Redbubble. It’s not just that they haven’t even shipped… they haven’t even been made yet. That is what’s boiling my potatoes right now, heading into a double Dome Wrestle Kingdom. You might think, aren’t you spoiling the gift by writing about it in a published thing? Well, brudda, the one place I can vent about this and know my wife won’t see it is in my wrestling writing. Also, she’s gleefully grossing me out with Dorohedoro right now. Sympathies = zero. Don’t follow me @ryugu_jo. Better yet, read dozens of pages of my stats and Despy drivel in the VOICES OF WRESTLING NJPW YEAR IN REVIEW E-BOOK
John Carroll: If you haven’t already please check out my Tetsuya Naito profile from the new ebook, which is also conveniently available as a column on this very website. This and Night 2 might be the last big NJPW events for a while now that Tokyo (and its neighboring prefectures) have requested that the central government declare another COVID-related state of emergency, so make sure you enjoy it while it lasts. Follow me on Twitter @toshanshuinla or my podcast @wrestleomakase, and check out the Wrestling Omakase Patreon for our DDT & Joshi Year in Review episodes, our series covering every Tokyo Dome main event in chronological order and more!
22-Man New Japan Rambo to determine who will challenge for the Provisional KOPW2021 Trophy on night 2
August: So we can pretty much rule out any interesting foreigners in here, and there probably won’t be any high-risk retirees coming out in the middle of a surging pandemic, so we’re just left with some pretty uninspired choices. Presumably, a lot of Young Lions will be filling out the lineup since there’s a limited number of people not already involved on the two cards. Prediction: Bad Luck Fale, BUSHI, Goto, SHO
J. Michael: I will stand stoically steadfast in the face of such relentless derision and continue to defend this concept. I wholeheartedly welcome it for a second year and for those that predicted it’s quiet demise, I hope the L corrodes you from the inside. I’ll save the particulars for 5 January. What we have here is the conflation of two gloriously simple ideas, in KOPW and the yearly Rambo, that no one involved seems to have any fucking comprehension of, and always seem haphazardly executed. The spice to this year’s Rambo is luxurious: with both cards restrained to 6 matches and heavy repetition on Night 2, this year’s Rambo will be replete with high-level mid-carders. SHO, Minoru Suzuki, Hirooki Goto, King of Korakuen YOSHI-HASHI, Prince of Korakuen DOUKI, et cetera. Prediction: Kenny Omega, Edge, Joshua Bishop, and Dory Funk, Jr.
John: Okada’s concept for the KOPW2020 trophy going from rumors of deciding future IWGP challengers to the Yano comedic memorial award kinda sums up his whole year when you really think about it. I’m happy that my colleague J. Michael likes it, but I couldn’t care less about it. But hey, it did give us the return of the RAMBO~!!, which unironically rules. I have no idea who makes it to night 2, it could really be almost anyone, so I’ll just pick some random names I guess. Prediction: Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, BUSHI, Toa Henare
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship Title Challenge
Hiromu Takahashi vs. El Phantasmo
August: The winner of this one comes down to two things. Does Hiromu, who established some heavyweight cred in 2020, move up full time, and will another Bullet Club civil war actually happen. Both of these feel pretty likely to me, so Hiromu losing and setting up a BC showdown on Night 2 is not impossible. But I’m still picking Hiromu, because I think these two nights will be a feather in the cap of LIJ after it’s all said and done. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi
J. Michael: It is inconceivable that Hiromu loses here, but it would be better if he did. I fully detest and contest the idea that Hiromu needs to graduate to the heavyweights. This is not a concern of size, nor a concern that the division would implode without him. It’s a matter of choosing the unprecedented option at a critical moment. Hiromu has the amount of star power and idiosyncrasies that he could carry this division to something akin to 75% of the heavyweight division. Not equal, but a close option.
Because of that, It’d be preferable that ELP win here and Hiromu chase him around for a while. BUT… context and exigencies conspire against that. For one, ELP can just win it off him later and you can have Hiromu chase him to the next WK (leading to the eventual, proper blowoff to Despy-Hiromu when Despy fully ripens into his mid-40’s). Also, as I type this I’m fully aware, in anguish, that these words might be futile; if a SOE goes through, who knows when ELP could return, unless you want to pull a corporate-style Evan Bourne on him.
Third, there is no way the semi-main event of a WK, even a 5 January show, is Taiji Ishimori v. ELP. This is structurally oriented towards a big Hiromu triumph. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi
John: Hiromu Takahashi will be a heavyweight by the end of 2022 whether anyone likes it or not; I understand the idea that he could make the division more important or whatever, but that’s just not how New Japan does things, and his natural heavyweight rival dating back from their Young Lion days is now elevated and ready to oppose him for the next half-decade. 2021 will be his last full year as a junior, and it will start with this two-day triumph. ELP will almost certainly get his revenge later on in the year to set up Hiromu chasing him, but for now good will triumph over the forces of boredom and Hiromu will move on to face Ishimori on 1/5. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi
IWGP Tag Team Championship
Dangerous Tekkers (Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr.) © vs. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa)
August: The Dangerous Tekkers have been one of the few bright spots in the professional wrestling landscape of 2020. But I’m eager to see both these guys in big time singles matches again, which means dropping the tag belts sooner or later. 2020 has sucked for a lot of reasons, but ZSJ and Taichi used it to position themselves for a big 2021. Suzuki-gun is a pretty stale stable though, and there’s a lot of moving and shaking going on in Bullet Club. Prediction: Guerrillas of Destiny
J. Michael: Similar to the last match, if there is any concern about tying up titles on foreign talent, that would have to play a critical role in the decision-making here. Unlike the last match, in this case it doesn’t really matter. Dangerous Tekkers should win, because they are the better team, the more interesting team, and the more novel team. Not to mention, at the Wrestle Kingdom Press Conference, G.O.D. didn’t even let them onto the dais. They blocked their entry for 5 straight minutes. Tekkers are just straight up babyfaces here. AND YET… what do you do with G.O.D. if they lose? They came over from Florida for this? Then again, I suppose they should cherish this reprieve. I swear, any time I’m driving around, I get extremely suspicious whenever I see a FL license plate. I keep my eye on that car until I can’t.
As August noted, Zack and Taichi might have more to do outside the tag division, although I suppose they could do the same with the belts. For one, I have an inclination, considering the previous two matches, that we might be seeing some Suzuki-gun v. Bullet Club stuff this year, as SZG transitions. If that’s the case, the thoroughly depleted Suzuki-gun needs singles guys to match up. Bullet Club will need some kind of title, and aside from this one the only realistic thing they’d have on 6 January is a briefcase. Prediction: Guerillas of Destiny
John: This is a match between the team that rescued the tag team division from a near-permanent state of mediocrity and the team that has done more in their power than anyone else to keep it there. Here’s a fun fact for you: if GOD wins this match, they break a tie with TenCozy for the most IWGP Tag Team Title reigns in history. That’s right, they’re both tied at 6, and victory here would make GOD the sole holders of that record. Neither of my colleagues even brought this up, and I do not say this to drag either one of them- if you did a random poll of a hundred New Japan fans I’d be surprised if more than like 5 of them knew that.
I get the idea that the Tekkers might both be more useful in big singles matches, but there’s no good reason why they can’t do some of those too while they’re still the tag champions. It just feels like there’s still plenty of runway ahead of them for this title reign, so I’m gonna go with my heart here instead of my head and predict what I want to see happen. The Tekkers retain, and hopefully move on to new feuds against BULLET CLUB and the Empire now that they (and Suzukigun in general) are being portrayed in a more sympathetic light. Prediction: Dangerous Tekkers
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IWGP United States Championship Challenge Rights Certificate
KENTA vs. Satoshi Kojima
August: Will NJPW eBook foreword author Jon Moxley show up? He’s been off TV for weeks, and recorded a video for AEW in front of some suspiciously bland wall art that may or may not have been in Japanese hotel room. It’ll be good to see KENTA eat a few lariats, but I don’t think there’s much chance of Kojima winning. The United States title is in a weird place, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see KENTA with the belt by January 6th. Prediction: KENTA
J. Michael: KENTA should run away with the 2020 Best on Interviews in every podcast, publication and internal thought of every wrestling fan worldwide. It isn’t just the off-brand shojou romcom he produced during the G1 Climax. It was the way he talked everyone into the building for the Naito match in February, where he matched Naito at Naito’s most tranquilo-est. KENTA, like his buddy Jay White, easily my favorite tag team in the word, just two complete fuckfaces that revel in the audacious degeneracy of the other, is untrollable. It’s impossible. But it’s also completely unpredictable. When he sits down, you don’t know whether you are going to get 3-5 minutes on YOSHI-HASHI’s staff, or if he is going to cut the promo of the year, laying raw his insecurities and diffidence as he captivatingly tells a story about how he felt mediocre sitting at a table with Tanahashi, Nakamura, and Asuka. Because it was Hideo Itami at the table.
Now he’s talking us into a match with Jon Moxley, defending a briefcase as if it was the title, acting with apoplectic rage and distress when someone defaces or damages his precious placeholder. It would be absurd if anyone took the briefcase off of him now. One of my fervent hopes for 2021 is that the IWGP United States Championship Right to Challenge Certificate becomes the most thoroughly defended thing in wrestling. I want 13 defenses minimum.
That said, I’m glad Satoshi Kojima got the call after Juice Robinson’s face fell apart. Kojima looked awesome all of 2020, obliterating Young Lions with lariato’s and looking massive. Like, bigger than at least 85% of the roster. I know it’s his thing, so his arms should be bigger than everyone’s, but it’s crazy how much bigger this 50-year-old man is. He moves better than all of them, too. Sometimes better than Tanahashi. Hell, this year sometimes better than Okada. I’d love it if Moxley made a list and Kojima was on it. Especially if Moxley just made a list of 2009 stalwarts and NOAH guys. Gedo goes over the list… “Ahh yehhh Jon! Yehhhhh! Puts on glasses Alright, so we have… Juice… yeah, good one. Suzuki…. Absolutely. Skips Tenzan. Tanahashi… that’ll be good down the road. Skips Makabe. Ohhh, KENTA… I was thinking that as well. Skips Kenoh. Skips Suguira. Skips Nakajima. Skips… Prediction: KENTA
John: A lot of people got screwed by 2020, but man did Juice Robinson get screwed by 2020 huh? First he gets locked out of Japan by the original COVID border closing. Then he suffers a mysterious injury that causes him to miss the NJPW Strong taping, where they apparently taped the next seventeen months worth of shows, meaning he didn’t get to appear on any US shows during the border shutdown either. Then he came back for the G1 Climax dressed as a Blues Brother, which was a self-imposed wound to be sure but still deserves a spot on this list. Then he and Finlay lost their chance to go back-to-back in the World Tag League via a KENTA briefcase shot to the head (that looked brutal). Then just as he’s set to go for revenge against KENTA at Wrestle Kingdom 15, the biggest show of the year and all, he suffered a fractured orbital bone, pulling him from the show entirely and taking away his opportunity to win a title shot against Jon Moxley (another wrestler he’s repeatedly gotten his ass kicked by with no revenge on his part yet) to boot. Yikes. Some year, huh?
Well anyway, his loss is the Strongest Arm’s gain. I have no idea what to expect from this match really, but I’m excited to see what they can do here. There’s no chance KENTA loses this, of course. Prediction: KENTA
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Great-O-Khan
August: Three years ago, Tanahashi was challenged by a returning Jay White to a match at Wrestle Kingdom, and everyone assumed White was going to win and start his big push. Instead it was Tanahashi who won the match, won the G1, and would win the IWGP title. For anyone assuming Great-O-Khan will win because he’s the new hotness, don’t be so sure. I don’t think Tanahashi has another 2018 in him, but it can never be assumed he’s going to lose. He struggled in 2020, and I think he wins here to get himself back on track and set up a rematch down the road. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi
J. Michael: Imagine, just imagine… you have to print the cloth yourself, which means you’d have to study the pattern well enough to replicate it for the printing place to copy. You have to find the right robe, looking through pattern, color, material, all of it. You have to tape up your hands. You have to either find a hat and amend it or find someone to make the hat for you, which again brings up back to careful study to make accurately predictive dimensions. This, and I’m sure much, much more, goes into the process of cosplaying as Great-O-Khan at a New Japan show.
People do this. People do this, and they buy his merchandise. Fast. And a lot. So, without calling anyone in particular out, if you don’t think the Great-O-Khan thing is getting over, for God’s sake look again. You may not be lost lost, but it’s time to ask for directions, mate.
Like August said, this doesn’t mean that O-Khan needs to win here, or that he is going to. I am going with O-Khan for a few reasons. One is simply personal: I want and think The Empire should sweep. Another is that O-Khan is a bit different than Jay White; this is not his return match, he is part of an established unit, etc. It would be fine if he did lose; ultimately, it doesn’t matter, as far as O-Khan is concerned.
Tanahashi is the inscrutable one here. If they have big plans for him, or even consequential ones, they would have to manifest out of thin air. That’s fine, it’s wrestling. But I can’t predict apparitions. Prediction: Great-O-Khan
John: There’s a couple big stories going on with this match and how people are completely wrong about it, or at least misleading themselves. My pal J. Michael did a great job summing up one of the mistakes people are making- there’s a LOT of tweets in the genre of “some guy who doesn’t actually watch New Japan more than once or twice a year sees ‘Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. A Sort Of Goofy Looking New Guy They Don’t Know’ and assumes it must be some kind of horrific booking catastrophe”. I actually saw one such goofball tweet “after seeing this match, no one can complain about Kurt Angle vs. Baron Corbin at WrestleMania again!”, which was funny on so many levels I don’t even know where to start. Okay, let’s just list them all, why not:
- This isn’t Hiroshi Tanahashi’s retirement match, you idiot.
- Corbin wishes he had 1/100th of O-Khan’s natural charisma or talent in general. Originally I also put “legitimate combat background”, but an enterprising reader pointed out to me that Corbin’s actually a golden gloves champion, so I guess he’s more competitive there. Good for him.
- Tanahashi is, by all accounts, a supporter of O-Khan’s and could well have asked for this match.
- As J. Michael went over, the Great-O-Khan is already a bigger success with the fans in NJPW after less than three months than Corbin has been in WWE in his entire career.
- Seriously, re-read number one.
- What is wrong with these people?
So that’s that. Great-O-Khan vs. Tanahashi is a good match: an up-and-comer looking to take down a legend. That’s classic Wrestle Kingdom shit, and it’s been what Tanahashi’s been doing at this show for most of the last decade.
But I think people can sense that things have shifted when it comes to Tanahashi, and not everyone is comfortable with it. That’s the other group of people who are wrong about this match- unlike the first group, they watch NJPW on a regular basis, but as giant fans of Tana they’re upset with not just his placement here but his usage over the last two years or so (really since he lost the title to Jay White in February 2019, but it definitely accelerated to another level in 2020). I went over this a bit in my NJPW ebook entry on Tanahashi, but the fact of the matter is that we’re in a new era in the company now, and specifically for how Tanahashi will be used going forward. There’s multiple generations of main eventers and upper-mid-carders to consider here, and it can explain why Tanahashi’s been used the way he has. In my opinion, they break down like this:
- Naito, Ibushi, Okada (you could put Okada one tier down too, but he’s been on top for years now even though he’s younger than the first two)
- White, EVIL, SANADA
- Ospreay, O-Khan
- Hiromu, Umino, ???
Before 2019 the tiers cut off at White/EVIL/SANADA- those were the three waiting for their next push, Naito and Ibushi and Okada were the three on top right now in their primes, and Tanahashi was the past-his-prime but still on top talent who could win a G1 or IWGP at any time, but whose primary role was to help the generations below him start headlining. As the next generation waiting for their turn, White, SANADA and EVIL were getting matches and teases but weren’t quite there yet.
Well, here we are now at the end of 2020 and EVIL has won the IWGP Title, Jay White already had the belt in 2019 and has been competing with top guys for a couple years, and SANADA made his first G1 final after having a long series of matches with Okada in 2019 over the IWGP. White is main eventing Night 2 of Wrestle Kingdom and EVIL and SANADA have one of the biggest non-title matches of the weekend. They’re the generation on top now.
Naito, Okada and Ibushi are all where Tanahashi was in 2012- they’ve already been on top for years, and they’re getting ready to transition into roles where they’ll help put over the next waves even while they’ll also continue to be top stars in their own right (and get runs with the IWGP, though not mega-runs like Okada already got) for the next 5-7 years. Ospreay & O-Khan are the next generation up, just getting their first teases of success, with a lot more to come. And you have another generation waiting after THAT- Hiromu dominating the junior division and waiting to be moved up, Umino on his fake COVID excursion probably getting ready to come back with a big push, and who knows who else will be ready in the future (Narita looks kinda big for a junior lately, eh?). It’s a deep roster of top talent, which is a good problem to have.
But when you have that many guys either waiting for their shot or currently getting that shot, someone was always going to have to step aside a bit. And unfortunately for his fans, that someone, right now, looks like it’s 44-year-old Hiroshi Tanahashi. That doesn’t mean he’s going to wake up and be a New Japan Dad tomorrow, but it does mean that his days of doing much better than 4-5 in the G1 (the record he posted in 2019 & 2020), let alone winning the IWGP title, are probably behind him at this point. Clearly some of his fans have had trouble adjusting to this, and I get it. I probably will have trouble adjusting when the same thing happens to Naito someday too. But time waits for no man, not even the Ace.
Now that I wrote all this, watch him win the IWGP or the G1 this year. Prediction: Great-O-Khan
Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay
August: Traditional booking would say that Will Ospreay, leader of a brand new heel faction, needs this win to propel him into the IWGP title scene. That’s not always how New Japan does things though. Either one could lose here, and get their win back later. Okada winning would make the fans happy, and make up for a very lackluster 2020, but I’m not sure he’s done goofing around. A loss at WK will do a lot to refocus him, and give Ospreay a direct line to challenge for the IWGP title sooner rather than later. Prediction: Will Ospreay
J. Michael: Okada’s done a lot of talking leading into this one. A lot. Voluminous. Interviews all over the place. But the words are something else, too, especially the NJPW1972 interview. He said stuff about Will Ospreay, but it is peanuts compared the body blows he unleashed on Naito. Here’s the most scathing thing he said about Ospreay:
“He was saying there was a glass ceiling, that he couldn’t be the top guy in CHAOS because I was there. Guess what, I’m still here whether you’re in CHAOS or not. So forget the excuses; if you think you can beat me then you should beat me”
Compare that to what he suggested about Naito:
“If you looked at the big title matches this year, it really hasn’t been what IWGP is about, don’t you think? BULLET CLUB interference in all these main events. Frankly, I think that’s turned a lot of people off. I think there are fans that have fallen away this year, and I plan to bring those fans back at the Tokyo Dome. Have those fans think ‘I knew NJPW was always great, as long as Okada’s at the top’.”
I could quote a dozen things here, but he further talks about not watching the title matches, losing interest in the scene (hinting that it is because of the main title picture), refusing to go for anything but the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, how the reputation of IWGP has been damaged, etc.
All of this is beyond seed-planting. Those plants have budded and grown. This is plant-pruning. This also hints to me that Ospreay has to win here. Okada is set. Him and Naito, who gave a mordant reply to Okada’s comments, are already circling each other in anticipation of future matches. As before, I go with an Empire clean sweep. Prediction: Will Ospreay
John: Watching people who should probably know better react to those Okada comments that J. Michael just brought up as if he was PEW PEW SHOOTING BROTHER was really, truly hilarious. This was from official New Japan interviews mixed in the middle of kayfabe about how he’s going to beat Ospreay’s ass, and people acted like it was from Okada’s YouShoot tape. I guess we all want to get worked at the end of the day, especially when it’s stuff we agree with. But if you think that was anything but the start of the build for Okada-Naito: Wrestle Kingdom 16 Main Event, I dunno what to tell you except that you’re wrong.
As far as this match goes, I agree that an Empire clean sweep makes the most sense for the night. Will Ospreay seems like the next man up for the short establish-a-new-top-heel IWGP title reign, and it would be a logical way to transition the belt from Ibushi (who’s winning this main event) either back to Naito or even to Okada ahead of WK16, without burning a valuable Ibushi-Okada or Ibushi-Naito match. Ospreay wins this and keeps the momentum from his turn going, heading into what seems like a very likely IWGP reign (whether you like that or not; frankly I can’t say I’m too thrilled about it either!) in 2021. Prediction: Will Ospreay
IWGP Heavyweight & IWGP Intercontinental Double Championship
Tetsuya Naito © vs. Kota Ibushi
August: Assuming both men survive this match, this will be more spectacular than any match in 2020 and probably 2021 too. It’s the biggest match these two have ever had, and they are going to pull out every dangerous trick, no matter how many people are watching in the audience. I’ll be watching this match on the edge of my seat, between clenched fingers, because the danger adds to the excitement. The way we got here was stupid, but now that we’re here, it’s time to hold our breath in collective nervousness and excitement as these two attempt to cripple each other. Ibushi’s will win the title in 2021, but I don’t think it will be tonight. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito.
J. Michael: Safety Advocates, don’t even bother watching this one. Naito and Ibushi both gave interviews for NJPW1972, and both spent an odd amount of time comparing their matches to the youthful enterprise of practicing moves on mates in the schoolyard. Couple that with Ibushi’s reminiscent interview that contained several sections alluding to the idea of Ibushi replenishing his arsenal with weapons of the past… as one perspicacious analyst has note, we’re getting a fucking phoenix plex.
I’ll break down the overall aspects of the Dome booking for 5 January, because… what else would I talk about there? The story is about Ibushi and White. The ones stuck in that humiliatingly inconsequential 3rd place match last year. Naito is a bemused, detached observer in the story where, technically, he is the highest ranking character.
There were some articles in the VOICES OF WRESTLING NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING YEAR IN REVIEW E-BOOK that deal with Naito’s title reign. Honestly, as unsatisfying as the year ended up, after two successful Domes and an Osaka sell-out, there’s a romantic aspect to this picaresque superstar holding everything together during a rampjaar. It doesn’t really matter if he loses here, anyway. You think Naito and Okada Part IV is going to be a non-title feud?
If Ibushi loses here, I demand that he be publicly fired. Have the Prime Minister declare Kota Ibushi officially banned from professional wrestling. Send him off to Stamford and have him annoy the fuck out of the old guy all day. If Ibushi loses this match, just don’t ever have him win the title. It’s already exhausting enough seeing people try to claim that he isn’t over; there’s not enough Dock Ellis medicine in the world to get me through trying to defend Ibushi’s existence. Prediction: Kota Ibushi
John: I defended Tetsuya Naito’s 2020 enough in the article I linked to all the way back up at the top (which also doubled as his profile in the ebook as well), but that doesn’t mean I won’t do it some more here too! Anyone calling his year a failure can go kick rocks. First of all they’ll have to explain why Japanese fans are voting him the 2020 Weekly Pro Wrestling Grand Prix (MVP) winner if his year was so fucking bad. Sure, he held the top title in wrestling for a lot of it, but if his year was really the big disaster that others would have you believe, it’s not like that’s some kind of legally binding contract that states fans absolutely have to vote for him. Fans have voted for people other than the guy who held the IWGP title the longest before. Completely ignoring his continued popularity among the Japanese fanbase isn’t quite as bad as disingenuously claiming that anyone who liked some of his wrestling matches during the year must be “pretending”, but it’s pretty close.
Naito had a good year. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it was my all time favorite year of his; it doesn’t hold a candle to his 2017 (one of the best years by any wrestler in history), and it’s probably even below years like his 2013, 2015 and 2019. But you know what those years didn’t have that 2020 did? A global pandemic that fully erased a quarter of the schedule (including one of Naito’s most anticipated matchups, his first-time-ever meeting with his protégé Hiromu Takahashi, some kind of major headlining match at Madison Square Garden, and who knows what else), and simultaneously condensed the rest of the year while restricting fans from making noise. Wow, maybe that’s why the big title run was a little disappointing? Nah, must be because Naito was always bad or something I guess.
Anyway! Luckily Naito is in here on 1/4 with one of his only three good opponents (if you ignore the five hundred other wrestlers he’s had amazing matches with, of course), and he and Kota Ibushi will no doubt tear the house down. I can’t wait to see what kind of crazy shit these two insane people get up to in the Tokyo Dome, almost 18 months after their last match. If you’re getting ready to write another Safety Police Screed about it, well, I hope you wrote something about why WWE had approximately 500 ladder matches during 2020 too. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
As J. Michael noted, Kota Ibushi pretty much has to win his match. The Jay White thing is his story, not Naito’s, and it would make very little sense for Naito to win here and head to a match with Jay the next night that just hasn’t been built up at all. Ibushi wins, heads off to get his revenge on the briefcase thief, and then gets to immediately learn what it’s like to be a State of Emergency IWGP Champion. I’ll get my column on how Kota being on top during a once-in-a-century breakout of a novel virus means he was actually always bad ready for next year. Prediction: Kota Ibushi