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NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 15 Night One reactions: Toru Yano is the smartest guy in the room, Great-O-Khan needs more time in the oven, and Kota Ibushi is almost God

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Toru Yano poses with the KOPW 2020 trophy New Japan Pro Wrestling on Twitter

For full results for NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 15 Night One, check here, but otherwise we’re gonna jump right into my stream of consciousness reactions and opinions on the show. Let’s go!

New Japan Rambo

  • So, so glad the Rambo is back. Absolute highlight of every year, even if the “feed down to four and then pause until tomorrow to determine the provisional KOPW 2021 Champion” format seems silly. Just have this be for the provisional championship!
  • Chase Owens, running away from both Minoru Suzuki and the idea of confronting his own bald spot? Better ideas than trying to get between him and Tomohiro Ishii while they’re clubbering each other, that’s for sure.
  • I do appreciate the dads paying for brawling on the apron with double elimination courtesy Toa Henare. That doesn’t come up often enough.
  • Hirooki Goto not even bothering to take his t-shirt off, such disrespect for the noble and hallowed Rambo. I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.
  • Here comes YOSHI-HASHI, he finally got to be a real boy this year and I’m so proud of him no matter how he does h— he’s gone. Whoops!
  • DOUKI’S GOT A PIPE! It turns out Rocky Romero is actually stronger than a pipe and he got disqualified for using it, but still, points for trying.
  • Kevin Kelly asserts that SHO is a lot of wives’ favorite wrestler, well, I can assure you that he’s neither my favorite nor my wife’s. I do like the guy’s work quite a bit though, so fair cop.
  • BUSHI having the guts to do a suicide dive during a battle royal is right up there with DOUKI’s pipe business.
  • Tiger Dad is here, I think he’s gonna take it. He has all the powers of a tiger and of a dad, he’s unstoppable.
  • This story where the established wrestlers don’t want to let the Young Lions in the match is weird but I kinda like it? Like I’d rather have weird vets and guests (COVID allowing) but if we’re gonna put the Young Lions in to fill space, I like that they get kind of a unique story.
  • Tiger Dad is, in fact, stoppable. Alas.
  • Yano won without even getting in the match? Absolute legend. A hero to the people.
  • Overall this was a fun Rambo, even if it didn’t have the reptile brain highs of having any unexpected off-roster guests. Plague world, whatcha gonna do?

  • I have no idea who this Dr. Wright lookin’ MC is but Riki Choshu’s here carrying a toddler so I ain’t complaining.
  • Aw, English commentary dedicates the show to Brodie Lee, that’s sweet.

El Phantasmo vs. Hiromu Takahashi (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship #1 Contender’s Match)

  • Hiromu’s entrance gear is... I have no words.
  • The first move of the match is a dropkick off the apron that sends Phantasmo through a barricade. I do love it when we skip the pretense and cut right to what you know these boys want to do in the first place.
  • And then you get learned psychology business over the sunset flip powerbomb to the floor, which is just beautiful. That’s the trick to keeping this stuff compelling and not just being a pile of moves, is showing that you’ve learned something from wrestling each other or from watching tape, and you’re not just trading pre-programmed sequences back and forth.
  • Out of that initial flurry of moves a more traditional story emerges, ELP working Hiromu’s leg and hand over, and that’s the really brilliant part is it’s not just one or the other, wrestling lets you mix and match and shift back and forth in the pursuit of a more compelling wrestling match.
  • For real though, biting and then wishboning the fingers? Phantasmo, you beautiful devil you.
  • Ref bump? Sigh. The number one thing that would improve the New Japan product in 2021, for my money, would be if referees leveled up and took less guff. Remember when Red Shoes Unno was a badass who took no shit? I’d like to have that again but for all the refs.
  • The margin of error on some of these kickouts and reversals is breathtaking. Picture perfect finish on the short spike Hurricanrana from Hiromu at the end of a series of traded pins, too. Great stuff, no surprises.

Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) vs. Suzuki-gun (Taichi & Zack Sabre, Jr.) (c) (IWGP Tag Team Championship)

  • Not my favorite spot for my boy ZSJ but hey, it’s a title match on Wrestle Kingdom, I can’t complain that much.
  • Taichi’s always gonna be a coward for doing a Visual Kei gimmick and not going full femme. Don’t look at me, I don’t make the rules.
  • Ah, here’s that brawling gang warfare start. I don’t especially like it, but it’s comforting and warm, like an old ratty blanket.
  • Lotta goozle chokes goin’ on here. Lotta goozle chokes. Stoppin’ up that goozie pipe.
  • This one is not especially grabbing me, I have to admit.
  • Pretty fun “everybody do something cool” sequence, though. Lot of moving parts on the finish, too. Solid.

KENTA (c) vs. Satoshi Kojima (IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship Right to Challenge Certificate)

  • Glad to see Jon Moxley sent in a promo to remind us that he’s still the end goal of all this.
  • Kojima kicking things off just trying to pop KENTA’s head like a grape in a side headlock, or as I call it, dad’s home.
  • No fancy tricks here, just two dudes hitting each other really hard. The biggest escalations here are a superplex from KENTA and the apron DDT from Kojima, straight-up violence.
  • Busaiku Knees? Not so great tonight, but the Go 2 Sleep for the finish? Picture perfect. Fun little match, not as great as it could have been, not a lot to say about it, but not bad at all.

Great-O-Khan vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi

  • Great-O-Khan’s hopping vampire bit sure is something, huh? Where’s a Belmont when you need one?
  • Tanahashi opening his jacket like he’s about to pull the Matrix of Leadership out from underneath it, nice.
  • Grappling-heavy early on, the 1/100 Ace clearly trying to force his younger opponent into fighting his traditional slow-and-steady New Japan main event match, but eventually O-Khan suckers him onto the floor and takes control.
  • Struggling to get a sense of who Great-O-Khan is as a wrestler. He makes excellent use of his background as an amateur wrestler but it doesn’t seem to connect with the entrance gimmick or his ring gear at all?
  • Well okay he’s got the hopping Mongolian Chop, I guess that’s something even if it still feels kind of at odds with the rest of what he’s doing. Like, hopping vampires are Chinese, why not bust out some kung fu joint locks or something else similarly unique? I dunno, it’s 5AM and I’m cranky.
  • As the match progresses a focus on Tanahashi’s leg appears and I wish he’d been going after it hard from the start.
  • The Iron Claw / Cobra Twist combination is cool but again it feels unconnected to anything else that’s happening here.
  • Two High Fly Flows are a merciful end to a match that had no clear throughline (the leg work? Didn’t matter!) and overstayed its welcome. Great-O-Khan is a talented dude no doubt but I think he needs to go back to the drawing board if this is the best he could bring against Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom.

Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay

  • Ospreay clutching his neck within minutes of the match beginning— sixty percent of the time, it works every time.
  • Something about the way Bea Priestley says “Okay Will, you’re alright” as she gets the hell out of the way of Okada chasing after him with murderous intent is hilarious.
  • The Rainmaker really literally throwing himself into the match with abandon, sells his desperate intent to take Ospreay out nicely.
  • Okay Will, I just noticed the feather(?) shaved into your hair, you absolute goof.
  • Ospreay targeting the back with vigor, taking a slow and steady approach to try and outlast Okada pinballing at him full-force, a nice bit of role reversal.
  • SUPER tight nearfall off Will countering a dropkick into a Liger Bomb! I totally bought it, especially in the context of Kazuchika starting to put together his usual match at long last only for Ospreay to cut him off and deny him. Totally would have worked as a finish.
  • A suplex over the guardrail and into the ringside tables is, I believe, our first real spot of hardcore violence tonight. Okada with a real “why do I let these things happen” thousand-yard stare in the aftermath.
  • Match is starting to outstay its welcome a little bit now that we’re away from the interesting role reversal / back work story, although Okada getting the Tombstone on the apron does inject a little more life back into things.
  • Hey hey, no more fooling around, Okada going right for the throat now, Rainmaker attempts, Money Clip applied briefly, a spinning Tombstone, it’s like he realized he was losing me, personally, and turned the heat up.
  • Bea Priestley on the apron for the distraction and Okada straight up just reapplies the Money Clip right in front of her, cold as ice.
  • Last gasps, now Ospreay reverts to form and gets nearfalls off a Spanish Fly and an OsCutter! The structure of this is pretty great even if it’s running a little longer than I’d like.
  • And now he’s just abandoned any pretense of wrestling, wristclutch stomps to the head and an elbow to Okada’s neck, pure reptile brain death gasp violence before regaining enough consciousness for a Tombstone and a Rainmaker, using his own finishing sequence against him!
  • But the Rainmaker grits it out and hits his eponymous move and it’s over. Little bit of a weak finish, to be honest, just a step or two too cute. Would have loved it if it had come a sequence or two earlier, or maybe if they had been rearranged a little, I dunno.

Kota Ibushi vs. Tetsuya Naito (c) (IWGP Heavyweight / IWGP Intercontinental Championship)

  • Why oh why must we always do this feeling out? You both have to work tomorrow. I have to work tomorrow. You’re allowed to get to the point, I promise.
  • Okay, there goes Ibushi trying to turn the heat up and now the story is Naito using the basic mat grappling to try and grind him down, I’ll allow it.
  • I honestly zoned out and stopped paying attention for a minute but now we’re fighting on the floor and Naito is trying to literally break Ibushi’s neck, so that’ll get my attention. Ooh, and he busted out kind of an inverted Lotus Lock, that’s neat.
  • Ibushi coming back in the only way he knows how, a bunch of knocking Naito off the ring and to the floor. Seems legit.
  • Wicked nearfall off an avalanche Poison Frankensteiner, which I would have totally bought, but of course damaging Ibushi’s neck just makes him more violent.
  • Tetsuya banged his knee on the barricade off a Frankensteiner earlier and it looked bad and I wish that had gone on to matter here.
  • Trading multiple nearfalls off both Kamigoye and Destino, sure.
  • Kind of weak for a Wrestle Kingdom main event, honestly. Very back and forth in a way that felt disordered to me rather than the pure fight between equals that I would think they imagined. A good match, but not a great one.
  • But hey, Kota Ibushi’s one step closer to becoming God, that’s neat.

There you have it, folks

Those are my takeaways from the night. What did you think about night one of Wrestle Kingdom 15, Cagesiders?