New Japan Pro Wrestling
Wrestle Kingdom 15 – Night 1
January 4, 2020
Tokyo Dome
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World & FITE

Previews: Night 1, Night 2 & Statistics/Research 

Meet our Reviewers

Jeri Evans: She has a large pot of coffee at hand as she awakes in the land of “Stupid O’Clock A.M” to bring you this review for night one of Wrestle Kingdom. She also has all her Plushies sitting in a line on the couch facing the television so they don’t miss a single moment of the show, which is clearly normal behavior and should not be used to question her sanity or life choices. She can be found at @Jerriest_Jer if and when she foolishly takes part in such platforms . . .and she does. 

Paul: Is still a bit groggy after flying into Rome the day prior to this show. Is excited for this despite being quite frustrated by New Japan last year. But new year means new chances and time will tell if New Japan will use them.

22-Man New Japan Rambo
Toru Yano, Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens & BUSHI Won

Jeri Evans: Perhaps we’ll be able to tell how the year will go by the first entrant…shit it’s Chase Owens. Scratch that hypothesis. Tomohiro Ishii is number 2. The number 2 entrant is a sign of how the year is going to go. Much better. Minoru Suzuki and Yuji Nagata come out and the ring features my favorite grumpy badasses…and Chase Owens. Henare eliminates both Nagata and Suzuki at the same time and that gives me hope that this is a sign of things to come for him.  Of course, he proceeds to be the next one eliminated upon hoping that. 

I’m putting more effort into this review than some of the wrestlers put into this match. DOUKI comes out and immediately gets removed from the match for using a steel pipe. I fully endorse his decision making. There are entrants, there are eliminations, two of my plushies fall off the couch in boredom. Ishii gets eliminated by Bad Luck Fale and my minimal amount of fucks left are down the drain. We have Young Lions in the ring teaming up to face the odds, and it goes how you expect They all get eliminated as Yano makes his entrance and ends up one of the final four without doing jack shit. You know what, I take back every negative things I’ve said about Yano, what a fucking genius! Didn’t have to do shit, reaps the rewards. Bravo. Bad Luck Fale, BUSHI and Chase Owens join him in the final four. That’s the shit smeared cherry on this showcase of hot garbage. 

Paul: Starting WK off with Chase Owens is not a good omen. Now Ishii at number two is quite the opposite though. With Suzuki and Nagata out next the average age of this rumble is quite high so far. Henare gets to eliminate them both maybe he’ll finally get a real push. One can only hope. And he’s the next one out well nevermind then. Neither Goto nor YOSHI-HASHI has taken off their shirts for this match. Ishii and Chase Owens are still in from number one and two. Rocky Romero and Douki finally add some spice to this match but Douki immediately gets himself DQd for using his pipe. A few more entrants later and the commentators have lost track which number we are on as Bad Luck Fale comes out. He was number 17 by the way. He also eliminates Ishii right away. Honma gets eliminated off-screen, which is very fitting. We get an impromptu tag match in the middle of this as the Young Lions face-off with the BULLET CLUB. Yano gets the final spot as and all the Young Lions get tossed out before he even gets to the ring and that’s how the match ends. In fact, only two people were in the ring as the match ended as BUSHI spent 90% of his time on the outside. The lack of surprises hurt this match but is understandable given the circumstances. Out of all of the Rambos so far this was one of them.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship Title Challenge
Hiromu Takahashi def. El Phantasmo

Jeri Evans: Himoru’s ring gear looks so huge and comfy, I’d love to crawl up in it. If Hiromu is still in there, so be it. I’ll gladly accept those terms. Hiromu with a fantastic dive and an outside of the ring Senton to start shit off. We’re only moments in this match and both competitors are clearly fucking feeling it. Let’s GO! Some high flying and energy in abundance right off the back! I’m not the biggest El Phantasmo fan but he’s clearly on a mission to put on a performance. El Phantasmo has some creative offense and has a good portion of control while Hiromu gets his chances to shine and hit some good stuff in return. Ref goes down and we get a dick punch to Hiromu that he misses which leads to a fantastic Super Hurricanrana from El Phantasmo. He does a share of BULLET CLUB callbacks which leads to a One Wing Angel Attempt that gets him a DVD into the corner for his efforts. Loved that. 

Hiromu is letting El Phantasmo get a lot of shit in as he’s controlled a huge portion of this match and Hiromu is doing his best to survive and get offense in when he cans. This is an El Phantasmo showcase. Hiromu succeeds with a rollup attempt in the end which just goes further in showing that he had to do what he could to survive El Phantasmo’s attempts and pull out a win. Very good opener, I’ll confess as not the biggest Phantasmo fan he was really good in this match and showcased well. Hiromu gave him a lot, and he took advantage of it and went off. Hiromu was as good as he always is and definitely wanted to do his part to get the main show off on a good foot. 

Paul: After just two minutes into the match it’s already apparent that ELP has come into this match with his working boots on. During the Super J Cup, he did a lot of character work but here he is showing off his flying skills as well. He is very dominant for the majority of the match and clearly wants to impress the Japanese audience in his return to the country. Hiromu meanwhile is selling his ass off for El Phantasmo and you get the feeling he wants to establish him as a credible threat. This makes sense since these two are likely going to feud a lot going forward. 

This is even more apparent in the finish where Hiromu just barely escapes with a win via rollup. This leaves ELP strong and with a reason to challenge Hiromu quickly after he wins the title from Ishimori tomorrow. Hiromu has always been a strong performer but he has shown a lot of maturity over the past year where he is now the guy clearly leading the match. Good match and good booking from New Japan.

IWGP Tag Team Championship
Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) def. Dangerous Tekkers (Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr.) (c)

Jeri Evans: The Plushies and I form a prayer circle to send energy toward a Dangerous Tekkers successful title defense. I don’t want 2021 to start with another GOD title reign. I still haven’t adjusted to Tama Tonga’s current look. Much cleaner, but now appearing as generic as his abilities. The opening of this match involves a lot of Taichi choking the GOD members but it’s not long before GOD gain control. Not much to say while they do as it’s pretty straight forward but then Zack Sabre Jr. comes in and he’s a nice ball of energy as he takes it to GOD and brings some energy into this match. He seems hyped up. To my dismay, the GOD took control back almost immediately just as I felt some life had been interjected. 

English Commentary claims GOD is better with Jado in their corner leading me to question their understanding of the word better. GOD goes to super powerbomb Zack but he turns it into a RNC on the top rope to Tanga Loa. Taichi powerbombs a willing Zack off the top rope to assist him in a superplex. Tekkers are such a superior tag team tandem it’s not even fair. Better work, better chemistry, better energy, just better. Taichi is doing all he can to bring this match up and I’m all for it. THEN WE ARE REWARDED WITH PANTS REMOVAL AT LAST! Jado Bullshit leads to Taichi getting nailed with the Iron Finger from Hell and fucking hell it leads to a GOD title win. Ugh. Well, I shouldn’t be surprised, but doesn’t make me less unhappy. Adequate tag team title match that picked up in the final third. Dangerous Tekkers were great and I guess GOD weren’t too major a negative they could’ve been. 

Paul: Haven’t had a chance to talk about it yet so I’ll do it here. Tama Tonga’s look is very bad as it makes him look like a guy that should be jobbing to Magnum TA in thirty seconds. Before he had a unique look and now he looks like he’s straight out of a generic create a wrestler factory. 

Douki takes out Jado in an encouraging start to the match. It’s kind of wild that Tama and Tanga have switched places now in regards to who is clearly the better member of the team. When they started Tama was clearly carrying the team, then they were equal and now Tanga is the one carrying his brother. I can’t remember another team where this happened to such an extreme. With that said the gap between these two teams is very wide and it shows in this match. Whenever Tekkers are on offense it’s a fun affair but whenever GOD takes over the match slows down to a crawl.

Taichi is clearly the MVP of the match. He has grown into a tremendous performer now and is finally putting it all together. While I do enjoy Tekkers a lot I hope that he gets the chance to do some singles work as well. The match is very clean until the finish where Tama pulls out the same glove they used to win their matchup in WTL to win the titles as well. Pretty decent match overall but nothing special. I’m not a fan of putting the belt back on GOD though as they are a very played-out act and getting some fresh blood on top of the division would be nice. Hopefully, this will just be a transitional reign.

IWGP United States Championship Challenge Rights Certificate
KENTA © def. Satoshi Kojima

Jeri Evans: Mox says some words in a video promo before the match. I miss Mox in NJPW. All due respect to Juice Robinson, I’m more intrigued by this matchup. I’m all on board with Kojima getting a singles match at the Dome with stakes. I really hope we can get something quite good out of this combo. KENTA throwing Kojima into Hiroyoshi Tenzan is a cheap ass move I can get behind. After a short period of KENTA dominance, Kojima retaliates by hitting Tezan’smongolian chops and it gets a nice smile out of me. Things like that can add so much to a match. Sometimes you get more out of the small things than you do the over the top big moments. Kojima can still hit a nasty DDT to the apron, and that was the spot that the match started to hook me point. If Kojima getting this spot doesn’t make you happy in some way, I don’t think you are capable of joy.

Match picks up after the DDT. KENTA gets a good stretch of offense, Kojima retaliates and we get a nice attempt at a Kojima Lariat countered into a powerslam from KENTA. There’s an attempt at briefcase shenanigans but Kojima ain’t having that shit and swats it the fuck away because he’s ZOD DAMN KOJIMA AND HE AIN’T HAVING THAT! KENTA has to pull out his busaiku knee in an attempt to put away a man who has more fight in him than he was willing to admit but the G2S finally put him away for good. Not surprised by the result but I’m still giddy at how Kojima got the opportunity. Even better that he was able to put forth a good effort at the dome once more. Makes me happy. Predictable outcome, but good effort and I didn’t mind sitting through it. Mox and KENTA is going to happen at some point and I’m for it. Kojima you still rule!

Paul: We get a brief Mox promo prior to the match. I’m happy for Kojima to finally get another singles match with stakes. I get why New Japan doesn’t want to push him anymore but he can still go and it’s a bit of a waste he gets so little to do. Then again it is a show of trust that he was picked as the replacement guy here.

The start of the match is a bit plodding but then Kojima turns up the heat with a nasty DDT on the apron. The match picks up considerably from there and Kojima teases the lariat but KENTA counters with a powerslam. That snake KENTA tries to get the win with a briefcase shot but the strongest arm in the world is stronger than some wimpy briefcase. But in the end, KENTA comes back with some stiff palm strikes, a busaiku knee and a Go2Sleep. A clean win by KENTA standards and the expected result. A solid match but it was a little hurt by the fact that the outcome was never in any doubt. I am looking forward to Mox’s and KENTA’s title match though as that should be very good.

Hiroshi Tanahashi def. Great-O-Khan

Jeri Evans: I’ve had mixed opinions on Great-O-Khan and admittedly they’ve been all over the place. That said he looked fantastic posing in the ring in his entrance gear. I Loved it! We get the Tanahashi abs reveal and of course, I’m all in on it. I’m also all in O-Khan Mongolian chopping Tana’s hands when he attempts to skin the cat. O-Khan dominates which leads to a tight kneebar attempt as Tanahashi spends the opening portions of this match in serious trouble. Tanahashi is incredible when it comes to the details. Gets some fire and hits some offense but then shows that his knees are bothering him immediately after. Details like that make a difference. O-Khan is a work in progress still but piece by piece he figures things out and improves. 

Occasional signs of life from Tanahashi aside O-Khan is in control the majority of the time. Solid call back to earlier in the match Tanahashi succeeds at skinning the cat on the second attempt and fires up against O-Khan. Tanahashi is a man trying to prove that he belongs and O-Khan is determined to say otherwise. Tanahashi having a moment of considering using a chair is appreciated, as is him not over drawing the conflict. Short, sweet, and just the fact Tanahashi would consider such a route shows that even he’s beginning to doubt his place and abilities. He doesn’t need it to ultimately win, but the doubt and second-guessing is attempting to sink in. By the numbers match and I’m not saying that as an insult. It was good and did what it needed to do in this spot. O-Khan continues to improve and the story elements were told well without being crammed into your face. O-Khan will get there. Not every wrestling career path must be a sprint. Tanahashi holds on to his present, but the future could be dimming for the Ace as he struggles not to become just another card in the deck.

Paul: This is a huge chance for O-Khan to impress on a big level and likely another step in the story of Tanahashi’s decline. O-Khan just standing in the middle of the ring with his hands behind his back while they tease a Tana count out is a proper power move. Otherwise, the match is taking a bit to get going. Tana is still great at doing the little things right but he’s also lost a bit of a step clearly. O-Khan meanwhile has a ton of talent but is also still in the process of figuring things out.

The match didn’t really grip me for the most part but I got into it when they teased Tanahashi using a chair. I wonder if that is a tease for something more down the line. Then again it might not be since Tana gets the win with two High Fly Flows right afterward. Kind of surprised that Tana wins this match but then again O-Khan isn’t hurt by losing here and has plenty of time to grow and ascend up the card. If anything after this match I feel like he still needs more time to properly grow into his role so pushing him hard right now would be a mistake. He isn’t ready yet but might be with another year of seasoning. I wonder if they will run this back in a year and give O-Khan his win back.

Kazuchika Okada def. Will Ospreay

Jeri Evans: Fuck yeah, this is the match I looked forward to the most. Mixed feelings with my personal opinions on Ospreay aside, I went into this with high interest and emotional investment. Forgive me in advance of you reading this if you come across fangirling. Hell, I’m clutching a plushie as we speak. Christ on a Ritz Cracker, Okada just comes off like a huge fucking deal in music, presence, ring gear, just the feel of a fucking moment. The ring gear game for both are fucking fantastic. High stakes, high expectations, and fuck, I’m just high on hype as I type each word. They don’t waste time on anything and start getting chippy and I’m already into it. 

Minutes in and Okada is already throwing himself over the top rope. He’s all in for this. Ospreay gets control and things settle down as now he wants to show Okada what he can do and that he’s surpassed him. Ospreay taking his time, getting in his shots as Okada goes a bit being in trouble. Ospreay is always confident, but add his cocky bastard attitude and the unlikability factor just increases tenfold. Bea Priestley outside being an unwanted pest helps in that regard as well. HIGH back body drop gets Okada back in control and that didn’t look fun to take. Okada wanted the Money Clip, Ospreay preferred to keep the match moving on. I’m just sunk in everything being done and/or attempted.

I’m in three paragraph territory writing this. EVERYTHING in this match feels it has added omphf. Comes off violent, deliberate, harsh. At this point in the match, I don’t think they’ve even hit the higher gear yet, and they started pretty high. When the dropkick to a top rope sitting Ospreay is hit at the fifteen-minute mark I felt myself inching forward. Certain things just feel and seem a bit more brutal. Ospreay springboarding when hit by some nasty dropkicks help that image. Ospreay has to go into his playbook and hit stuff like Cheeky Nandos, Sunday Bloody Sunday to try to keep him down but Okada has too much fight. I’m loving this match. It’s at this point the gear got higher, and they just had an amazingly fast and beautiful sequence that ended in a dropkick attempt turned into a powerbomb.

Fuck me, at the twenty-minute mark of the match we’re into four paragraphs. I warned you I was invested in this. Ospreay’s look of anger and determination made me feel at this point some shit was about to be attempted. OSPREAY OBLITERATES OKADA THROUGH THE TIMEKEEPER TABLE! I’m clutching my Plushie like the harder I hold it the better Okada condition Okada will be in. I love that Ospreay won’t settle for the countout victory. He wants that damn pinfall. I may be rocking back and forth a little. Am I being a bit dramatic? I don’t give a shit, I love this. FUCK TOMBSTONE TO OSPRAY ON THE APRON! Twenty-five minutes and I’m leaning so forward in I’m going to fall off the couch. 

Five paragraphs! Okada wants that Money Clip but Ospreay made the ropes. Ospreay is spent, tired, beaten. Okada confident, standing tall, trash-talking. I’m invested, emotionally high, hooked. I almost want Ospreay to pull this off, but it’ll make me cry. I’ll cry either way. OSPREAY FINDS IT IN HIMSELF TO GET A TOP ROPE SPANISH FLY! WHAT ELSE??? The only thing missing is a more full Toyko Dome going ape shit. Fuck COVID. Oscutter doesn’t finish, and Osperay brought the disrespectful slaps and then stomps! Now Okada is spent and I’m prepared to be a wreck. Thirty-Five minutes and Ospreay hits a god damn Rainmaker and I thought he had it. Fuck me!  I thought he had it. Stormbreaker? NO! SIT OUT TOMBSTONE!!! RAINMAKER AT FUCKING LAST!!! I ended up a wreck but in the best way possible. I apologize for the length of my writing, but I just loved everything. Even the Money Clip didn’t bring it down for me and at times even added to everything. Best Okada match since Shingo! Possibly my favorite Ospreay match??? I don’t know, shit I don’t care. Holy shit, don’t bother calming my tits. It ain’t happening. This fucking ruled. I LOVE PRO FUCKING WRESTLING. *****. Fuck it, add the sixth *

Paul: Now this felt like a proper Wrestle Kingdom match. This was easily the best Okada match since his bout with Shingo and the best Ospreay match in a long time. This felt like Ospreay reverting to his 2019 form rather than his disappointing 2020 form. These were two masters of the craft going at each other hard for over thirty minutes. The pace of the match was incredibly intense and it did not feel like it would go as long as it did early on. The counters down the stretch were excellent as is to be expected and they even found some fun ways to apply the Money Clip.

Ospreay is a much more natural heel at this point of his career and he is great at playing the unlikeable prick heel. A tremendous performance by him where he played well to his character and established the style that he will be working going forward. 2020 felt like a transition year for him where he tried to figure out the differences between his junior and his heavyweight style and it feels that he has finally figured that out.

For Okada, this felt like a return to form after a very disappointing 2020. He finally overcame the curse of the Money Clip as he failed time and time again to put Ospreay away with it, only to finally realize that the Rainmaker is the only way to end this. Hopefully, this is the end of the Money Clip and a proper return of the Rainmaker. Ospreay meanwhile would have benefited from a win here but he is still poised for a big 2021 regardless. An excellent bout and easily the best match on the show so far.

IWGP Heavyweight & IWGP Intercontinental Double Championship
Kota Ibushi def. Tetsuya Naito © 

Jeri Evans: We still have a main event? I’m exhausted. I’m spent, but it’s Ibushi/Naito so for them I found a final wind. The moment the bell rung my mind clicked I was watching Ibushi once again go for the titles at the dome against Naito. The highest of stakes, in one of the biggest shows of the year. This is Wrestle Kingdom. Knowing they will kill each other doesn’t make me cringe less when things like Ibushi getting german suplex on his head happens to the outside. I’m not criticizing, there’s no point. We can jab and talk about how they always try to kill each other, but both men do know how to wrestle and they do it well. As Natio landed on his neck from a clothesline on the apron I decided it was pointless to point out every neck/head bump. You know they are happening. It either ruins your enjoyment or it won’t. 

I must confess while I think the wrestling is enjoyable, and the head/neck bumps not a subtraction, I found my emotional investment lacking compared to the previous match. Might be unfair but I feel desensitized to Naito/Ibushi matches. I’m not feeling the intensity or drama, but at typing this we had a long way to go still. I start to tense up as they are on the outer apron at the twenty-minute mark, AND A HURACANRANA TO NAITO FROM IT AWARDS MY HESITATION! Fuck me, that ruled. I felt the first tinge of excitement hit me at that moment for the main event. I find myself experiencing the “they’re going to kill each other” dread began to take hold once more. No matter how desensitized I claim to be at it, I always find myself tense up in certain situations. They began throwing heavy bombs (we even got our first Destino) each other as the twenty-five minute mark landed. 

I find myself sinking in as they went back and forth. I bit on the kamigoye but I should’ve known better. It would take more than one for Ibushi to achieve this. As it should. On the flip side there been two Destino attempts at this point and I didn’t bite on either, I’m too used to it taking several for it to have any effect on me. Not knowing how this will end started to add to the drama and suspense. It felt legit up for grabs. Each other with rewards and consequences for the outcome. Destino is blocked, Kamigoye is hit, IBUSHI WINS! Great main event. While it had its share I didn’t think the neck/head bumps were too detrimental. I willing confess some of you will be higher on this than I am, make no mistake though I’m still pretty high. It was a great match with a great moment for Ibushi in the Dome. ****½

Jay White comes out and cuts a good promo against Ibushi for the final hype for tomorrow’s main event. Not a match I’m hyped about, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be great. 

Paul: This is the first singles match between these two since Dominion 2019, which yours truly was in attendance for. The pace of this match was a bit slower than normal at the start, which is a tip-off that this was going to go long. Though with that said they still dropped each other on their necks as is to be expected between these two. Whenever Naito and Ibushi have a match they appear to have a death wish.

One thing that really helped my enjoyment of the match was that I never got a good feeling for who would win the match until the finish. While the story going in felt like it was centered around the rise of Ibushi there was also the argument that Naito is now the ace and a win over one of his best rivals would help cement that. This was reflected in the match structure, which was just a 50-50 back and forth. That really works for these as two as they very much feel like equals that are standing on the same mountain top together.

Having Ibushi win is definitely the right call though as this was his time to win the big one and if he didn’t there was a risk of pushing his story too far. I did not think that this was close to their best match against each other; it was still a very strong performance and the second-best match on the show. This felt like the end of Naito’s story and it’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here. He will likely stay out of the title picture for a while now, but hopefully, he will get set up for something juicy tomorrow or at New Year’s Dash. Ibushi on the other hand will now have the chance to make this his year regardless of the outcome of his match tomorrow. Either this will be the year where he is champion at the top of the promotion or the year where he will chase the heel. Regardless, he is a proper top of the promotion main eventer now.

I wasn’t super into the idea of the Ibushi vs Jay White match on Night 2 but White drew me in with a great promo after the main event today.