January 4th 2021 will be my first Wrestle Kingdom event as a revived wrestling fan. Coming back to the world of wrestling as an adult, things have changed a lot. The internet and multi-media outlets give access to a plethora of information about promotions outside of WWE, and with that, someone falling in love with this pseudo-sport all over again has a much wider world to explore. Throw my new journey, New Japan Pro Wrestling has become something that has intrigued me, and I see having influenced the modern Western wrestling world, but I have only viewed from a distance.
Lockdown has given the opportunity in my job for us to watch wrestling shows as a group online, and in the search to do that more often, I decided this would be the year to throw myself into this mythical world. Thankfully, the card outlined for this years event holds a lot of intrigue for someone with only a cursory knowledge of the Eastern wrestling worlds pillar, bookings that have names known throughout the casual wrestling, and matchups that fill me with interest. With that being said, here are five thoughts a NJPW newcomer has going into Wrestle Kingdom 15.
Are Bullet Club the same relevant concern that they were when I wasn’t watching wrestling?
Earlier this month, Lizzy Flanagan penned an article titled “The Bullet Club problem”. Highlighted in this article is how BC has changed its style somewhat in 2020, owing to COVID-19 travel restrictions, and its impact on foreign stars making NJPW events.
Regarding that, Bullet Club itself seems to have shifted throughout it’s time – and while itself and New Japan have been so closely associated – it seems less significant going into 2021 than it has been. An interesting question for me is, how much of the show feels impacted by the work of BC and its members, and will their work be one of the moments that sticks with me from my first NJPW event?
How is Jeff Cobb in a role greater than ‘heater’?
Part of my return to wrestling fandom has been the rise of AEW. Their programming and platform in a wider international context has allowed for lesser-known talents to receive national television attention, working alongside big name talents like Cody Rhodes and Chris Jericho. In particular, for the latter, Jericho’s Inner Circle stable has revitalised the wrestling career of Jake Hager, and brought Sammy Guevara and Proud & Powerful to the forefront of some of wrestling’s biggest storylines of the last two years.
A forgotten honorary member of The Inner Circle would be Jeff Cobb, who appeared as a hitman of sorts for the group twice in mid-February. He didn’t need to speak, as Jericho was still significantly the spokesperson for the group, and he only worked one match against the erupting star of John Moxley. The aim of which was not to debut Cobb as someone to watch, but add ingredients to the second AEW Champions recipe. As someone who’s only experience with Cobb is this pair of appearances, I look forward to seeing him in a match on one of wrestling’s grandest stages, challenging Shingo Takagi for his NEVER Openweight Championship, aiming for what would be his second reign.
How flippy is Will Ospreay, truly?
Ospreay has been a popular performer for a number of years, earning Wrestling Observers Most Outstanding Wrestler of the year award in 2019, and being described by some fans as “…the best and most mind-blowing high flyer in an era where everyone is a crazy high flyer…”. While “the best” is debated certainly, what is not is that Ospreay certainly fits into the category of “crazy high flyer”, or as some older fans have put it “flippy sh*t”. Exhibit A, your honour.
He’s a performer seen most often through GIFs of his latest exploits on social media – but I’m also aware of the prevailing campaign by fans to show there’s more to his work than just flips and dives. The question is, how much more is there? And how much of the more is neck stuff.
How good is Kazuchika Okada, really?
As someone that’s become an adult wrestling fan, the intersection between wrestling and wrestling reporting is interesting, particularly both the positive and negative attitudes when it comes to journalist Dave Meltzer. Regardless of that, many people believe his current favourites, at least as it relates to his star rating system are Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada.
For a Western observer, Omega has become a more regular occurrence, having performed many times in big matches for AEW throughout the companies first year of operation. Okada, however, remains an enigma. Some of his work leads to social media buzz, but largely it has remained in the NJPW sphere. I’ve seen the big moment matches between both men during their legendary rivalry, but outside of that, I’ve never seen Okada perform.
Does he deserve the monicker of one of history’s greatest wrestlers, or at least specifically Japan’s, given he’s just received his seventh straight Tokyo Sports Best Bout Award (eighth in total)? Hopefully, my expectations haven’t risen too high.
Is Wrestle Kingdom 15 the time Kota Ibushi is trusted wholeheartedly by NJPW?
To an outsider of Japanese wrestling, Ibushi is known as one half of The Golden Lovers, one of wrestlings prettiest faces, and a damn good wrestler. As with much of this article, I have very limited experience with Ibushi, but what I have seen has amazed me. Similarly amazing for some fans, is the fact that Ibushi wasn’t one of the first signees for All Elite Wrestling.
Almost in the opposite direction, Ibushi instead signed an almost unending exclusive contract with NJPW. This is despite never having won it’s biggest prize – the IWGP Heavyweight Title. Now that it’s been over eighteen months since he said he’d like to work for New Japan “until the day I die” and his desire to be on every show, is his dedication, his popularity, and his self-described “peak” enough for the company he has loved most his life to put that greatest honour around his waist? And is that time as soon as Wrestle Kingdom 15? As I dip my toe in, I’m excited not only to see how he performs, but also if this year will start at its highest possible point for him, and additionally, will it immediately be snatched away from him on Night 2 of Wrestle Kingdom 15.
Are you a new comer to New Japan? What intrigues you most from the outside looking in? What are your predictions for Wrestle Kingdom 15, whether you’re a new or long time NJPW viewer? Let us know in the comment section below.