Emanating from the Tokyo Dome its New Japan Pro Wrestling’s fifteenth annual Wrestle Kingdom event, the 30th annual January 4th event, and the second year in a row being split across two nights. Let’s get into the action-packed Night 1 of Wrestle Kingdom 15!
KOPW 2021: New Japan Ranbo
Opening the event an hour before the main card was the New Japan Ranbo, nothing beats a good battle royale style match and this Ranbo was no exception. 22 entrants came to the ring in timed interval fashion and battled it out until only four were left. The four remaining wrestlers will then go on to compete in a four-way match to crown the winner of KOPW 2021 and kick-off night two of Wrestle Kingdom 15.
The match began with Chase Owens and Tomohiro Ishii, both men putting on a great showing for most of the match. The usual chaos then ensued with wrestlers coming in and out of the match. Tomoaki Honma being a standout here mainly for the fact he never quiet looked sure of where he was for half the match. There were some good showdowns early on between Minoru Suzuki and Ishii with Owens trying to get involved but always getting knocked down by the two veterans. BUSHI appeared to have an issue with some young lions keeping them out of the ring for a good portion of the match but this ultimately worked in his favour. The match was brilliantly capped off with the unexpected win for Toru Yano. Yano being the final entrant never even made it to the ring before he became one of the final four participants and ultimately earning him a spot in night two’s four-way match.
Winners: Chase Owens, Bad Luck Fale, BUSHI, and Toru Yano
Hiromu Takahashi vs El Phantasmo
Kicking off the main card is Best of the Super Jr. 27 winner Hiromu Takahashi going head to head with Super J-Cup 2020 winner El Phantasmo for the opportunity to face the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion Taiji Ishimori on night two of Wrestle Kingdom 15.
Both Hiromu and ELP are no doubt at the top of the game in the junior heavyweight division having both won their respective tournaments twice. The match opened with some great technical wrestling and fantastic athleticism. ELP’s not shy about using some dishonourable tactics and took advantage of the fact while the referee was knocked out. There were some great callbacks to Bullet Club leaders of the past with ELP going for the Styles Clash as well as other signature moves. Despite suffering damage to his hand, very calculated on ELP’s part, Hiromu managed to come out on top in what was a short but sweet opener for the night ahead.
Winner: Hiromu Takahashi
IWGP Tag Team Championships: Dangerous Tekkers (Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi) vs Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa)
A combustible start to the match with plenty of counters, good brawls and both teams employing some dirty tactics. The match didn’t play to either team’s strengths and was largely lacklustre throughout. The heel/face dynamic was at odds here with both teams traditionally playing the heels and yet Guerrillas of Destiny took on a halfhearted face attempt. The excitement definitely amped up towards the climax of the match and saw Guerrillas of Destiny pick up the win to become seven-time IWGP Tag Team Champions.
Winners: Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa)
IWGP US Heavyweight Right to Challenge: Satoshi Kojima vs KENTA
Initially meant to be a match between Juice Robinson and KENTA, Satoshi Kojima stepped up to the plate after it was discovered that Robinson would not be able to compete due to a fractured orbital bone.
KENTA started the match with some classic heel tactics like rolling out of the ring and hiding between the ropes all before the match truly got started. This was definitely a slower-paced match but showcased some good well placed hard-hitting moves from both wrestlers. The DDT on the apron from Kojima was brutal. Ultimately though KENTA won with a Go To Sleep finisher and will go on to face IWGP US Heavyweight Champion Jon Moxley at a later date.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Great-O-Khan
After the lengthy entrances for both wrestlers, the match itself was relatively short. With Hiroshi Tanahashi’s currently limited abilities and perhaps a still inexperienced Great-O-Khan, there possibly isn’t much more that could have been done. A decent showing nonetheless with some great physical prowess on display by Great-O-Khan. Tanahashi claimed the win in the end after a couple of picture-perfect High Fly Flow’s.
Winner: Hiroshi Tanahashi
Kazuchika Okada vs Will Ospreay
Mutual respect turned betrayal is the flame that fuelled this hotly anticipated showdown. Arguably the match of the night and possibly the year although that’s too early to call at this point. This was such a fantastic fast-paced match unlike any seen thus far at WK15. Rocky Romero said it best at the 20-minute mark “felt like five” and it really did. Move for move, counter for counter it was like watching two sides of the same coin. Each wrestler fighting a mirror image of themselves. These men wanted to hurt each other but ultimately prove that they are the better wrestler. Truly a masterclass in pro wrestling.
Winner: Kazuchika Okada
Double IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Championships: Tetsuya Naito vs Kota Ibushi
Kota Ibushi is an athletic specimen and Tetsuya Naito smartly kept him grounded throughout the match with a strong submission game working on the weakened head and neck. A massive hurricanrana off the apron from Ibushi sent Naito into the metal barricade catching both legs and knees between the metal bars. Naito barely made the referees 20-count and clearly, the tide had turned. Ibushi although having taken some real punishment during the match came through in the end to become the new Double IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Champion.
Ibushi clearly had taken so much punishment that after winning the match he took some time to rest only to go back for the cover on Naito not realising he’d already won. Red Shoes had to confirm the win to Ibushi much to Ibushi’s bewilderment. Before the title belts could be presented to Ibushi, Naito picked them up staggering around the ring before handing them to Ibushi and raising his hand in victory. That was a classic moment and a real emotional win for Ibushi but how well will his body hold up when he has to defend his newly won titles against Jay White on night two of Wrestle Kingdom 15.
Winner: Kota Ibushi
That’s all for NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 15 Night 1 be sure to check out our thoughts of Night 2 coming soon.