NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 15
When: January 4 & 5
Location: Tokyo Dome
Where To Watch: NJPW World
Jan. 4: 11:00 p.m. PST/ 2:00 a.m. EST / 7:00 a.m. GMT
Jan. 5 : 12:00 a.m. PST/3:00 a.m. EST/8:00 a.m. GMT
NJPW kicks 2021 off with their biggest event of the year, Wrestle Kingdom 15. It will be the second time in history that the program will be split over the course of two days, with a total of two main event matches for the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental titles, NJPW’s most prestigious prize at the moment, the Double Championship.
Double championship match … doubled
The first night on January 4 is Tetsuya Naito defending the IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental titles against challenger Kota Ibushi. The winner will take both titles into the second night to defend against “Switchblade”Jay White.
The story between Naito and Ibushi became somewhat convoluted after Jay White defeated Ibushi in the fall season to capture the right-to-challenge briefcase, which is what set in motion these two title matches. Naito still wanted to face Ibushi, feeling Ibushi already earned his spot at Wrestle Kingdom, but they reached an agreement where White would get his title shot the next night after Ibushi and Naito have their match.
Ibushi has been on a quest to “become god,” and the next step for him is to win the Double Championship. In his way is Naito. Matches between Naito and Ibushi in the past have bordered on frightening with the type of insane spots the two have done. As unpredictable and harrowing as their matches have been, none of those bouts have headlined Tokyo Dome. It’s a safe bet this could be next-level, health and safety be damned.
Here, we could see two title changes, one title change, or possibly none in the main events this year. But the Double Championship is not the only prize in title matches at Wrestle Kingdom. Other titles are also at stake.
Heavyweight tag team showdown
The often-overlooked Dangerous Tekkers (Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr.) roll into Wrestle Kingdom as arguably one of the best things for those titles in recent years.
The IWGP tag straps have been falling in prestige for years as titles float between teams. The belts were basically becoming mid-card fodder, but Dangerous Tekkers becoming the champions has stabilized the tag division to a point where the belts feel more prestigious than before.
The Suzuki-gun team will defend their titles against members of Bullet Club, as the Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tonga Loa) challenge ZSJ & Taichi for the titles on night one in Tokyo Dome, with GoD looking to unseat Dangerous Tekkers and break TenCozy’s tag team championship record for most reigns in company history.
Will this match-up make ZSJ & Taichi into the de facto babyfaces in this? Who are the real heels in this? We find out on night one.
Junior Heavyweight challengers
Similar to the heavyweight title picture, the future of the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship can hinge on two matches over two nights. Unlike the heavyweight title match, the junior heavyweights will have a number one contenders match to see who is the rightful challenger.
The contenders’ match pits tournament winners against each other, as Hiromu Takahashi, winner of the 2020 Best of the Super Junior tournament, faces off against El Phantasmo, who won the Super J Cup for the second year in a row. The winner will challenge current champion Taiji Ishimori for the Junior Heavyweight title on night two.
Rise of an Empire
Members the new Empire faction will face two of NJPW’s top stars in separate matches on night one of Wrestle Kingdom.
Kazuchika Okada collides with ally-turned-nemisis Will Ospreay in the semi-main event spot on night one. This grudge match is months in the making after Ospreay turned on Okada, left the CHAOS stable to form the Empire alongside Bea Priestley and The Great O-Khan.
An Ospreay win here could really elevate him even further up the foodchain, but he is up against one of the top stars in the company. Okada is also due his revenge.
O-Khan himself will meet New Japan’s “ace” when he collides with Hiroshi Tanahashi third from the top of the card on the first night. O-Khan has slowly come into his own as a character in NJPW, and a win over Tanahashi could help establish O-Khan as a true threat on the roster, but a loss might seal his fate to the mid-card. Never count out Hiroshi Tanahashi at Tokyo Dome, though.
NEVER Openweight sleeper
On night two, Shingo Takagi defends the NEVER Openweight Championship against Jeff Cobb. This bout could a sleeper match of the night. Both of the opponents are more than capable of delivering an outstanding match. If they ware given time, they can steal the show.
IWGP US title briefcase up for grabs
KENTA’s red right-to-challenge briefcase is on the line when he faces Satoshi Kojima for it this weekend. Kojima, celebrating 30 years in the industry this year, is a late replacement for Juice Robinson, who will miss the show after fracturing his orbital bone last month.
The current IWGP US Champion is Jon Moxley, but he remains in the States amid travel restrictions and such related to the pandemic. Maybe crowning an interim champion would be better for the title than dragging this out any further.
NJPW has a US-based series they are taping, and that show could use a championship. Maybe the winner between KENTA and Kojima can challenge Moxley in the States for the title on the Strong show.
Junior Tag Team titles, a Rumble & other bouts
Other bouts on the Wrestle Kingdom undercard include a match for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships, when El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru defend their titles against the somewhat serious pairing of Master Wato and Ryusuke Taguchi.
The 2021 King of Pro Wrestling trophy-holder will be determined over two nights, too. First, on night one is the New Japan Rumble battle royal. The last four survivors in the battle royal match will have a four-way bout to determine who the King of Pro Wrestling is on night two.
Additionally, ex-tag team champions face off in another grudge match as Bullet Club’s EVIL faces off against SANADA.
Stardom dark matches
On night two, the show will open with two dark matches from the Stardom promotion.
Both bouts feature the Donna del Mondo faction: Maika, Natsupoi, & Himeka of Donna del Mondo face Queen’s Quest, which is Saya Kamitani, AZM, & Utami Hayashishita. Also, Syuri and Giulia of Donna del Mondo face Mayu Iwatani and Tam Nakano in a tag team match.
Neither of the Stardom dark matches will air on the live stream.
Here are the lineups for both nights of Wrestle Kingdom:
- New Japan Rumble battle royal
- Hiromu Takahashi vs. El Phantasmo
- IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Dangerous Tekkers (Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr.) vs. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa)
- US Title Right-To-Challenge Briefcase: KENTA vs. Satoshi Kojima
- Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Great-O-Khan
- Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay
- IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuya vs. Kota Ibushi
- Stardom dark match: Queen’s Quest (Saya Kamitani, AZM, & Utami Hayashishita) vs. Donna del Mondo (Maika, Natsupoi, & Himeka)
- Stardom dark match: Mayu Iwatani & Tam Nakano vs. Donna del Mondo (Syuri & Giulia)
- KOPW Four-Way (last 4 survivors of the Rumble from Jan. 4th)
- IWGP Jr. Tag Team Championship: El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Master Wato & Ryusuke Taguchi
- NEVER Openweight Championship: Shingo Takagi vs. Jeff Cobb
- EVIL vs. SANADA
- IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Taiji Ishimori vs. Hiromu or El Phantasmo
- IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuya Naito or Kota Ibushi vs. Jay White