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    Tuesday, January 12, 2021

    #CafePuro: Wrestle Kingdom 15 Fallout

    How lucky were New Japan Pro-Wrestling and its fans to have concluded its biggest show of the year—Wrestle Kingdom 15 across two nights—right before Tokyo declared a state of emergency?

    Following New Year Dash last January 6, NJPW enters another period of uncertainty as the Japanese government implements new rules to prevent this next wave of the pandemic. 

    Now that the dust has settled, it's time to take a look at the fallout from Wrestle Kingdom 15.

    Double Golden God

    Kota Ibushi pins Jay White to retain the double belts.

    There are no words to describe what Kota Ibushi accomplished last week. There was a lot of doubt surrounding whether or not Ibushi would win a match at WK15—let alone both main events. He was facing a huge challenge in Tetsuya Naito, the leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon, who just achieved his dream last year. We didn't know if we would ever get that long-desired LIJ roll call in Tokyo Dome, for one.

    What I was not expecting was for Naito to lose and hand the belts over to Ibushi honorably. Maybe Naito didn't want to carry the stress of being double champion anymore or he knew how much Ibushi deserved both belts. After all, the Intercontinental belt was held and legitimized by his idol, Shinsuke Nakamura. Kota Ibushi even uses the Bomaye Knee Strike (the Kamigoye) to honor The King of Strong Style. 

    Besides Nakamura, another one of Ibushi's idols is Hiroshi Tanahashi. The Once-in-a-Century talent carried the entire company on his back for years as New Japan's Ace and an eight-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion before finally settling on the semi-tito gatekeeper role he plays today. 

    Today, Ibushi now carries both belts that his idols once held. What's insane is that Ibushi might just be the most accomplished wrestler in NJPW history. The Golden Star has practically won every major tournament in New Japan. 

    Now that he has accomplished everything, Ibushi made a major declaration during the post-match press conference. The Golden Star wants to unify the Heavyweight and Intercontinental belts. I personally don't think it's a good idea to combine the belts. The IWGP U.S. belt is stuck in America with Jon Moxley and we don't know when the Death Rider will be able to return to Japan.

    All I can say now is that I'm glad to see Ibushi as double champion before another pause in NJPW's activities. I just don't want him to unify the belts because it would ruin the upper-midcard scene in the company by eliminating the 1B to the IWGP Heavyweight title's 1A status. It gives the upper midcard players one less title to fight over. 

    Overall, I'm glad that Kota Ibushi became double champion. We needed something positive to happen amidst these crazy times. It's the perfect happy ending for his current arc, especially given all the uncertainty ahead. I can't say the same for Ibushi's opponent on night two though.

    Where does The Switchblade go?


    Right before Ibushi announced his intentions to unify the Heavyweight and Intercontinental belts, Jay White dropped a major soundbite by stating his contract was expiring very soon and that New Year Dash would be his final show.

    I honestly have no idea how true this situation is. First of all, many fans know that Jay White resides in Florida, a.k.a. WWE and AEW territory. He has connections in both companies, too. Finn Bálor was actually the one to recruit the Switchblade to NJPW after seeing one of his matches in the U.K. Meanwhile, AEW also includes some of White's peers including The Elite, Lance Archer, and even his former CHAOS stablemates, Best Friends. 

    What really surprised me with the promo was when Jay White decided to use his real name, Jamie White, towards the middle of his speech. Viewers saw the Switchblade struggling to make the next move against The Golden Star during their match and we saw King Switch begin his descent into madness. There are so many ways that this story could go but I'm focusing on two possibilities:

    Case 1: Jay White goes to WWE

    He already lives in Florida and I don't see WWE holding shows on the road anytime soon. Jay won't have to travel too much to perform for WWE. If the money talks, so be it. We, as fans, have no right to say what's best for our favorite wrestlers. However, it's a slippery slope. Not everyone is going to end up like AJ Styles and get treated the way we want every WWE import to be. The WWE roster is just overloaded with talent. It's difficult to give everyone equal camera time. Jay White could end up getting lost in the shuffle of Vince McMahon's playthings.

    Case 2: Jay White stays in NJPW

    Maybe this whole thing is a work! Jay White could just be pulling our strings or his contract is really expiring soon and he's just testing the waters to see how much NJPW will offer him for his next contract. If his contract truly is expiring, then it seems New Japan still has not learned from its lessons with dealing with The Elite. Sign more of your top stars to long-term contracts already, Kidani! 

    The door can't keep revolving. You need to have these top guys locked up so that no one is leaving at random and making you start from scratch time and time again, leaving you with vacant spots on top of the card. I mean, sure, old stars leaving does help the company reach bigger heights through the rise of new stars, but it would be nice to see storylines be completed instead of them suddenly being dropped. (BC Civil War anyone?)

    Nonetheless, we all wait to see what happens with the Switchblade.

    MOXLEY EXISTS


    After being stuck in the U.S. with the IWGP U.S. Heavyweight belt, the incumbent champion Jon Moxley returned to NJPW television for the first time since June via a pre-taped promo on Night 1 of Wrestle Kingdom. KENTA was looking for Moxley since he had just successfully defended the Right to Challenge Contract for the U.S. belt. I'm glad that we're finally getting some action in the U.S. title scene. After defeating Satoshi Kojima, KENTA can finally face Moxley in a match. The question now is where does the title match happen?

    Signs point to the rumored U.S. and U.K. TV deal that NJPW will announce soon. And what better way to get eyes on the show than a U.S. title match? Now that we know KENTA and many of the U.S.-based wrestlers are heading back home, I think it's a safe bet that the U.S. title match will happen as part of NJPW Strong or whatever the new U.S. TV show will be called.

    Hiromu is Junior Ace

    Hiromu Takahashi now holds the BOSJ Trophy and IWGP Jr. Heavyweight belt.

    Let's ignore the match with ELP. I want to concentrate on Hiromu Takahashi vs. Taiji Ishimori for the Junior Heavyweight title instead. After all, I could tell from Night 1 that Hiromu was saving his energy for this match. Hiromu and Ishimori have competed with each other in a BOSJ Final before and that was an insane match just with Hiromu tumbling down the stairs alone. 

    I knew that their meeting in Tokyo Dome would be difficult to match and I'll be honest: you can't compare the two matches. This Junior Heavyweight title match felt more grounded because Ishimori was able to keep Hiromu on the mat instead of letting the Time Bomb loose. The Bone Soldier already knows how to control Takahashi after defeating him in Jingu Stadium last year. 

    However, after winning the BOSJ, Hiromu has shown that he's now able to adjust to his opponents, having successfully faced powerhouses like SHO and technical wrestlers such as Robbie Eagles. The BOSJ winner was able to learn from his opponents and apply the same strategy at Wrestle Kingdom. Now I can confidently say that Hiromu is the certified Junior Ace of New Japan. 

    And now it's SHO time. Whatever happens next, regardless of the COVID situation, SHO has proven that he should be next in line for the Junior belt. There is no other man who's ready to take the title from Hiromu. I can't wait to see how Hiromu will sell the Shock Arrow.     

    Fallen Empire?

    Wrestle Kingdom 15 week was a disappointment for The Empire

    I was surprised that every member of The Empire lost their WK matches. You would think that after all the build-up that NJPW would be pushing the group but they all lost clean at the Tokyo Dome and then all they did was attack Hiroyoshi Tenzan at an uneventful New Year Dash

    Now they're called the United Empire and... we don't exactly know what Gedo has in store.

    G.O.D. Breaks The Curse


    I agree with a lot of wrestling fans that G.O.D. doesn't necessarily steal the show as singles competitors. Case in point, Tama Tonga vs. Kota Ibushi from the G1 Climax. Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa work so well together as a tag team, though, and boy, did they ever excel against TAICHI and ZSJ. I had very low expectations for this match and I'm glad to be surprised by how good the match was! The teams even kept the story going by having Tama Tonga use Takashi Iizuka's Iron Glove against TAICHI. Now TAICHI has a mission to get the glove back as Iizuka did hand off the item to TAICHI. 

    Now that G.O.D. has won the World Tag League and broken their Tokyo Dome curse, I think we'll get another round of G.O.D. vs. Dangerous Tekkers soon. I can't wait to see how the next match goes!

    Into The Unknown

    Wrestle Kingdom 15 delivered beyond my expectations this year. Amidst the global pandemic, NJPW was able to give us a light and happy moment before Japan had to implement new rules due to their rising number of COVID-19 cases.

    Overall, Wrestle Kingdom 15 raised enough questions to keep us tuned to the next show, whenever that may be.

    What did you think of Wrestle Kingdom 15? Where do you think Jay White goes? Share your thoughts below!

    Images from NJPW

    *****

    Steven Tan (@steviesaidyup) works for an e-commerce company by day and operates The Geeky Juans podcast and blog by night. He's a fan of the Anaheim Ducks hockey team, comic books, and the Moomin franchise. You can find more of his geeky thoughts on Twitter.
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    Item Reviewed: #CafePuro: Wrestle Kingdom 15 Fallout Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Steven Maxwell Tan
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