Wrestle Kingdom 15 was an amazing show from start to finish. Here are three takeaways from one of the most important annual events in the industry.
Wrestle Kingdom 15 has come and gone. Nearly 8,000 people sat in the Tokyo Dome and enjoyed some of the greatest professional wrestling that we will see in 2021. Kota Ibushi walked out of the event with two titles in his grasp. The stage is set for New Japan Pro Wrestling to put on another 365 days of fantastic professional wrestling. But before jumping into the future, take a step back and look at Wrestle Kingdom 15 and these three takeaways that show exactly why this event was so special.
We should be thankful Kota Ibushi left the WWE
Four years ago, Kota Ibushi was in the WWE, participating in the highly acclaimed Cruiserweight Classic. By that time in his career, he was already a multiple-time champion, even holding the IWGP Jr Heavyweight title three times by then. He was expected to be the last man standing once the entire tournament was over, establishing himself as a “star” in the biggest promotion in the industry. Except, that is not what happened. Ibushi lost to TJ Perkins and was sparingly seen on WWE television after that point. Why? Because Ibushi did not accept a long-term contract with the organization.
“They offered a full-time contract, which I declined, and then went into all sorts of different directions and contract suggestions, all of which I declined,” Ibushi said as reported by Chris Charlton. “I thought ‘is wrestling in that kind of circumstance, that environment really best for me?’ And it is not. Maybe for other people, not me. I really don’t wrestle for the money anyway.”
Wrestling fans should all be thankful that he gave that answer. As a part of New Japan Ibushi has put on some fantastic moments. Watching him develop from a junior heavy to the main eventer is a development that viewers would not have been able to enjoy if he stayed in WWE. Ibushi’s wins over Tetsuya Naito and Jay White at Wrestle Kingdom 15 stand as the closing of a specific chapter of his career. It is a chapter that wrestling fans should be happy they were able to witness and make them excited for whatever is next in his career. These are the moments that wrestling fans would have missed out on had he signed a long-term deal with Vince McMahon and company in 2016. By now, he would be another name chasing after R-Truth and the 24/7 title while we all wish for what could have been. But what could have been, is exactly what we are seeing right now.
Jay White may be the best professional wrestler in the industry
A big part of professional wrestling is entertainment. In many ways, it is just as, if not more so important than the ability to be a great wrestler. There are not many wrestlers that can claim to have an ability to juggle both, but Jay White is one.
With Wrestle Kingdom 15 on the horizon, it was hard to imagine a scenario where White did not walk out of the event with both titles, setting up a lifetime feud between him and Ibushi. That did not happen, but White still needs to be recognized for every part of his performance. His move set, playing to the crowd, talking to Ibushi and Gedo, facial expressions, selling – all of it was pristine. He gave off the air of being the consummate professional in this position – at only 28-years of age. White may not have won the titles, but he did more than enough to establish himself in the eyes of fans all around the world. At least those that were still unaware of who Jay White is.
There may be a time in the future where the debate around who the best wrestler in the industry begins and ends with Jay White. And that conversation may be closer than some believe.
Wrestle Kingdom 16 needs to feature women
Two dark matches occurred on night two of Wrestle Kingdom 15, both of which featured women’s tag team matches. Queen’s Quest defeated a portion of Donna del Mondo and the other part of Donna del Mondo defeated Mayu Iwatani and Tam Nakano. There has been a lot to make about NJPW and the inclusion of women in the promotion. For some, this may be a step of progress, which it is, but the time has come for the women to be involved on the televised show as well.
It would be easy to find 10 to 15 minutes on the show that could have shifted to a women’s match. Shift the King of Pro Wrestling match to the dark portion and replace it with one of the women’s matches. Shave off five minutes from the main and co-main events. There’s space to include women. Across professional wrestling, there is a growing call to include women and feature them on the show. NJPW should take heed of that call and work to involve more ladies as they have a place in this industry, including one of the biggest annual shows across wrestling.