Reviews

NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 15 Night Two Review, by Alex Podgorski

For the second year in a row, night two of NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom was better than the first. This show featured six televised matches, and most of them were anywhere from great to fantastic. Let’s look at them one by one to see how they compare to yesterday’s matches. Read my WK15 Night One Review right here in case you haven’t done so yet.

I watched this show on New Japan World. The STARDOM matches were not shown on NJW, even though both promotions are owned by the same parent. For what it’s worth, I was correct with both of my predictions, with the teams of champions winning in both cases.

Opening Match: Toru Yano defeated BUSHI, Bad Luck Fale and Chase Owens to win the Provisional KOPW 2021 Trophy

This match began with a Fingerpoke of Doom. In 2021. Because people love to rehash angles from over twenty years ago in pro wrestling.

Aside from that, this was a chaotic match without much of a unique story. All four wrestlers hit only their biggest spots and Toru Yano did his typical comedy stuff. BUSHI and Owens had a decent countering sequence and Owens also had a decent sub-story of ‘stablemates working together and then betraying each other’. But just as that story was taking off and getting somewhat interesting, Yano came in and hit simultaneous low blows to win the trophy.

This could’ve been much better but it felt sloppy and rushed. Not the best opener to the show.

3/10

Suzuki-Gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado) defeated One and Eight (Ryusuke Taguchi & Master Wato) to retain the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championships

This match seemed to have two stories going on at the same time. On one hand, Wato wrestled seriously and looked to prove how good he was from the opening bell with explosive offense and daredevil high-flying acrobatics. On the other hand, his partner Taguchi resorted to silly comedy that dragged the match down. As WATO looked to gain any sort of advantage, Kanemaru resorted to using the ref as a shield, which actually made sense considering Wato liked to charge constantly like a typical cruiserweight.

Unfortunately, while the match was solid in some respects, it wasn’t that good overall. Wato looked a bit sloppy and late on a few spots, and the ending seemed a bit deflating. On the plus side, it was the older Taguchi and not the younger Wato that took the fall. At least with that, Wato can remain somewhat strong as he looks to grow in 2021.

5.5/10

Shingo Takagi defeated Jeff Cobb to retain the NEVER Openweight Championship

This was a pretty awesome heavyweight hoss battle mixed with high-speed action. Cobb out-powered Takagi from the get-go, which forced Takagi to rely on speed to fight back. But that didn’t work as much as he wanted because Cobb was able to use the strength and size advantage to manhandle Takagi throughout the match. Cobb nearly had the match won several times, including when he dropped Takagi with a brutal Niagara Driver. And in typical New Japan fashion, the match soon transformed into a pure fighting spirit no-sell segment, with both men absorbing insanely stiff punishment without staying down for too long.

My only real gripe with this match is that it went a bit into the realm of overkill, especially as Takagi ran at full speed less than a minute after being dropped hard on his head.

But other than that, if you’re interested in seeing hard-hitting brutality with great ring awareness, this match will definitely make your week.

8/10

We get another brief intermission for them to clean and sanitize the ring, plus a commercial about some upcoming NJPW product involving smartphones.

SANADA defeated EVIL

This was an incredibly well-wrestled match. It was a given, but these two had amazing chemistry and had each other scouted perfectly. They constantly countered each other and kept viewers guessing what would happen next. And there was even a great story of SANADA having to overcome a two-on-one disadvantage since EVIL had his second Dick Togo causing shenanigans throughout the match. And Togo’s constant interference led to some great poetic justice SANADA pushed EVIL into Togo, who then flew into a table he intended to use on SANADA.

My only issue here was that there seemed to be a lack in raw intensity from SANADA. He should’ve tried to brutalize EVIL given the story behind the match. Instead, he just…wrestled. And while that’s all fine and good, it didn’t give this match the sort of relatability it should have. If you didn’t watch any NJPW beforehand or read any previews going into this, you’d have no idea these men had an intense hatred for each other judging by how they wrestled here.

Ultimately, this was good but could’ve been much better.

8/10

Hiromu Takahashi defeated Taiji Ishimori to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship

This match was absolutely intense. They started out with a blistering pace, charging at each other at max speed. Then Ishimori took advantage of Hiromu’s over-aggressive start and the limb damage that El Phantasmo had done on him the night before. In doing so, Hiromu had a monumental fight on his hand, and judging from how much he screamed, must’ve been in genuine pain on many occasions. Especially as Ishimori did his damndest to destroy Hiromu’s left arm.

Both wrestlers brought a primal intensity that was lacking in the previous two matches. Both wrestlers fought like they genuinely wanted to kill each other. They combined all the best elements of a modern wrestling match: amazing wrestling and counter-wrestling, explosive come-backs, strong logic, and brutal spots all around the ring.

An absolute must-watch!

9.5/10

Kota Ibushi defeated Jay White to retain the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships

This was the longest match in Wrestle Kingdom history, going over 48 minutes. And the first example of Ibushi’s batshit insanity happened within the first seven.

White knew how crazy Ibushi was and is, which is why he used a great strategy of attacking Ibushi’s ribs to make it harder for Ibushi to breathe. Ibushi may be tough as nails, but even he would slow down if he doesn’t get enough oxygen. And when White saw that Ibushi was still resolute, he began attacking Ibushi’s legs to weaken them and therefore his finishers. And thanks to regular interference from Gedo, White was able to add one roadblock after another for Ibushi, which in turn made his struggle to win much more fun to watch.

And then…White went one step too far.

He mocked Ibushi too much, which forced Ibushi to summon his Mr. Hyde alter-ego.

MURDER IBUSHI!

Looking like a man possessed, a stone-faced Ibushi beat the ever-loving shit out of White exactly as I had predicted. It was so brutal for White that he literally surrendered. He asked Ibushi to pin him, but Ibushi said ‘f**k that’ and continued the violence.

But in his quest to be violent, he shoved the referee, allowing White to land a critical low blow.

Going into this match, I was skeptical about Jay White as a top guy. But his performance here convinced me otherwise. He was such a tremendous villain here, and was able to find many different ways to regain control from Ibushi and managed to be cowardly, clever and badass at the same time.

I will probably review this match in greater depth at a later point in time. But for now, this is the best match of the entire two-day event. By a country mile.

10/10

 

Final Rating: 9/10

While the two multi-man matches were disappointing, the four singles matches were absolutely tremendous. Each match was different in its own way, and the final two matches were amazing. The main event might be the best Ibushi match I have ever seen, and that’s taking into account Ibushi’s marvelous Wrestle Kingdom 9 match with Shinsuke Nakamura six years ago. This show was awesome.

My only concern is where does New Japan go from here in terms of larger story. There’s a clear story to be told with LIJ leader Tetsuya Naito being the only member of his stable to lose his big singles match. A possible schism and story about that stable’s future could keep LIJ preoccupied for months going into 2021.

But what about the rest of the card? Ibushi is the clear star around whom they’re building the brand in 2021, and already people are speculating involvement from AEW since both of the Golden Lovers are now world champions. But what about the rest of NJPW’s regular roster? Who are they going to build as the top heels? Bullet Club suffered catastrophic singles losses, and now Jay White is teasing some kind of departure. And no one takes Suzuki-gun as top-level threats right now.

Hopefully something big happens tomorrow January 6th at New Year’s Dash to set up some big stories going into the rest of the year.