Wednesday, December 30, 2020

NJPW WrestleKingdom 15 Preview & Predictions

It's almost the end of the year and that means one very important thing: WrestleKingdom is upon us!

We're just five days away from NJPW's WrestleKingdom 15 folks, and as always it looks like a tremendous lineup.  Beginning last year, this annual Tokyo Dome tradition was expanded to two nights, and that's the case once again.  Last year the story was about the IWGP Champion facing the IWGP Intercontinental Champion on Night Two, this year the G1 winner Kota Ibushi lost the briefcase to Jay White but Champion Tetsuya Naito granted Ibushi a title shot anyway.  Thus we'll see the double title defended on two consecutive nights (Alright, it's been a year, can we split these belts up again?).  As with last year's Dome shows, Night One seems on paper to have more MOTY candidates, but we'll see.  Strangely the proper PPV lineups on each night only consist of six bouts.  But of course the benefit of that is that we won't get any filler matches and everything will get adequate time.  Let's get into it.

Night One

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight #1 Contender: Hiromu Takahashi vs. El Phantasmo

This should be an incredible opener, pitting the former IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion and 2020 Best of the Super Juniors winner against the winner of the 2020 Super J Cup.  Hiromu returned in spectacular fashion a year ago to take the title from Will Ospreay, delivering the second-best match of the year in my opinion.  I'm sure these two will do their best to equal or surpass that match.  I think Takahashi is a lock to win here and challenge his nemesis Taiji Ishimori on Night Two.

Pick: Takahashi

IWGP Tag Team Championship: Dangerous Tekkers vs. Guerrillas of Destiny

Tama and Tanga returned to Japan after a months-long COVID-necessitated absence, and climbed right back to the top of the ranks, winning the World Tag League and writing their ticket to the Dome.  One team they didn't beat though, the champions Zack Sabre and Taichi.  This should be a pretty excellent tag title match that sees GOD win back the straps.

Pick: Guerrillas of Destiny

IWGP US Title Contender: Kenta vs. Satoshi Kojima

Sadly Juice Robinson, my pick to win this match, is off the show due to injury, so in his place will be the veteran Kojima.  This match should be fine, but it's one of the less interesting bouts on paper.  I don't see Kojima winning the certificate.  I'm also wondering when Jon Moxley will even be able to go back to Japan and defend his title.  He won it at last year's Dome show and I don't think he's been able to defend it yet.

Pick: Kenta

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Great-O-Khan

Khan has been quite disappointing in the ring thus far, with plodding WWE-style monster heel offense.  I hope Tana can get a good match out of him but I'm not holding my breath.  If this isn't the weakest match of the whole proceeding I'll be shocked.

Pick: Tanahashi

Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay

Holy shitballs will this be spectacular.  I see this stealing the whole two-night shebang.  These two have wrestled twice in G1 bouts; the first was one of the best matches of 2019, the second was shaping up to equal it when Ospreay's pals interfered on his behalf.  Their record against each other is 1-1.  Now is the time for Ospreay to get a clean win over his former mentor and become a bona fide top heavyweight in NJPW.  Okada can survive the loss, and I'm sure we'll see him back in the title picture soon enough.  But this is Will's time to shine.  Regardless this should be incredible.  Side note: how weird is it that Kazuchika Okada isn't in an IWGP Title match at the Tokyo Dome?  It's only the second time in the last nine editions.

Pick: Ospreay

IWGP Heavyweight/Intercontinental Championship:  Tetsuya Naito vs. Kota Ibushi

Ibushi took back-to-back losses at WrestleKingdom 14, after winning the 2019 G1.  Now after winning the 2020 G1 but losing the briefcase, he has a chance at redemption.  The story is pretty clearly written; Ibushi beat Jay White in the 2019 Finals but lost to him at WK14.  He lost to him again in the 2020 G1 but thanks to a Herculean effort from Tomohiro Ishii, White was cockblocked from the Finals and Ibushi repeated.  But then Ibushi lost to White a third time at Power Struggle.  Now is the time for Ibushi to not only redeem his WK14 loss to Okada for the title, but his triple-loss to Jay White.  Kota Ibushi will defeat Tetsuya Naito and finally win the big title on his way to a Jay White rematch.  This will also be an amazing bout, I just hope they don't kill each other.

Pick: Kota Ibushi

Night Two

King of Pro-Wrestling Trophy Fatal 4-Way

No idea who's gonna be in this, since we don't have the participants in the New Japan Rumble the night before.  Ishii doesn't have a match yet, so he's a good bet, and then probably Yano (the 2020 KOPW Champion), maybe Bad Luck Fale, and Minoru Suzuki.  Regardless I don't have high hopes for this match.  Ishii should win it so he has something to do.

Pick: Tomohiro Ishii

IWGP Jr. Tag Team Championship: Suzuki-Gun vs. Ryusuke Taguchi & Master Wato

It's time to merge the heavyweight and Jr. heavyweight tag titles into one Openweight set of belts.  They simply don't have enough teams for two divisions.  I've been saying it for years, but the NJPW tag team scene is so thin right now it's reached the opposite of critical mass.  Anyway, SZGN have had these belts seemingly forever, so put them on this new team One or Eight (no idea why they picked that name).

Pick: One or Eight

NEVER Openweight Championship: Shingo Takagi vs. Jeff Cobb

This should be a great slugfest.  Takagi has become an excellent custodian of the NEVER Bruiser division as I'm calling it, where two big bad motherfuckers just beat the shit out of each other for fifteen minutes.  Cobb has improved greatly over the last two years in New Japan.  This will be a Night Two highlight for sure.

Pick: Takagi retains

Evil vs. Sanada

These two had a good-but-not-great match in the G1, and hopefully they can really have a definitive bout here.  Sanada took a big step in October by securing his first G1 Final, something Evil has yet to do.  I think he should continue that momentum here.  I could see whoever wins this match going on to challenge for the title at New Beginning.  That person should be Sanada from where I sit.  That said, I think babyface Ibushi is leaving the Dome as the champion, so they'll probably want a heel to challenge him in February.

Pick: Evil

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Taiji Ishimori vs. TBD

Spoiler alert: it'll be Ishimori vs. Takahashi.  Has to be, right?  Either way this will be another excellent juniors match that could steal Night Two.  I'm going to pick the challenger in this match regardless who it is.  But Takahashi is the centerpiece of the division at the moment, so it should be him.

Pick: Ishimori loses the title

IWGP Heavyweight/Intercontinental Championship: TBD vs. Jay White

For this match my pick all depends on who wins the Night One main event.  If Ibushi finally wins the title he'll successfully defend it here, getting payback for the three consecutive losses to White.  If Naito somehow retains on Night One, Jay White will defeat him for the belt on Night Two.  Ibushi-White would be a much better way to close the two nights.  There's a poetic, built-in story there, Ibushi matches tend to be more spectacular than Naito's, and it will be a great way to send the crowd home happy.  Ibushi has to become the new champion.

Pick: Ibushi if he's in this match.  If not, White.

Man, it's a lot harder to predict a two-night PPV than a one-night PPV.  As I proved last year, if my Night One picks are off, it throws Night Two into turmoil.  But this should be another excellent installment in the vaunted WrestleKingdom series.  WrestleKingdom is now like WrestleMania used to be; a basically guaranteed PPV of the Year candidate.   

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