Fight Kingdom 15 it will always be defined by the performance of Kota Ibushi.
Ibushi put on an impressive display on consecutive nights, defeating Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP heavyweight and intercontinental titles on Monday at the Tokyo Dome, then returned the following night to successfully defend double gold against (Switchblade) Jay White in a 48 minute main event thriller.
There was no shortage of highlights during the two-night adventure, which gave wrestling a tremendous boost as we entered the new year. Sanada fought in the best match of his career in a win against Evil, while Hiromu Takahashi also delivered back-to-back magic nights in wins against El Phantasmo and Taiji Ishimori. Shingo Takagi defeated Jeff Cobb, taking another step to show the world why he will become an elite player in New Japan, and the Guerrillas of Destiny won the IWGP tag team championship for a record seventh time.
Japan’s new mainstays Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi were victorious, with Okada defeating Will Ospreay in a scandalously convincing match and Tanahashi resisting Great-O-Khan, who displayed his unique aura despite the defeat. Kenta also defeated Satoshi Kojima to retain his right to compete for the IWGP United States Championship, and reigning champion Jon Moxley invited him to watch a pre-match video, setting up an inevitable showdown between the two.
These are the results of the two-night show:
- Chase Owens, Bad Luck Fale, Bushi and Toru Yano advanced from the New Japan Rambo to compete for the 2021 King of Pro Wrestling Trophy
- Hiromu Takahashi defeated El Phantasmo for the right to compete for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship on the second night.
- The Guerrillas of Destiny defeated Zack Saber Jr. and Taichi to win the IWGP team championship.
- Kenta defeated Satoshi Kojima to retain his right to compete for the IWGP United States championship.
- Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Great-O-Khan
- Kazuchika Okada defeated Will Ospreay
- Kota Ibushi defeated Tetsuya Naito to win the IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight Championship
- Saya Kamitani, AZM and Utami Hayashishita defeated Maika, Natsupoi and Himeka in a dark match for the female promotion Stardom
- Syuri and Giulia defeated Mayu Iwatani and Tam Nakano in a dark match for Stardom
- Toru Yano defeated Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens and Bushi for the King of Pro Wrestling Trophy 2021
- Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru retained the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship against Ryusuke Taguchi and Master Wato
- NEVER openweight champion Shingo Takagi defeated Jeff Cobb
- Sanada defeated Evil
- Hiromu Takahashi defeated Taiji Ishimori to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
- IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champion Kota Ibushi defeated “Switchblade” Jay White
New Japan star Rocky Romero, who wrestled on the New Japan Rambo on opening night, provided commentary for the show on the New Japan World streaming service. Romero’s journey with New Japan began 19 years ago after the promotion opened its Los Angeles dojo. He has built a remarkable career in the years since, including a career as an IWGP junior heavyweight champion, but Romero noted that he had never experienced anything like what he witnessed during a two-night span of Fighting kingdom.
“They were two incredible nights, and it was even better than last year,” says Romero. “It felt more personal about the past year and everything we went through in the world.”
Romero has known Ibushi for almost 15 years, and witnessing his journey to the top of the wrestling world has been nothing short of breathtaking.
“If you look at Kota Ibushi’s résumé, it’s the most impressive résumé of all in New Japan,” says Romero. “He has the most accolades when it comes to championships and tournaments. G1 won [Climax tournament] the last two years, he won the New Japan Cup and Best of the Super Juniors. He was NEVER an openweight champion, junior heavyweight champion, and tag heavyweight champion, and IWGP junior heavyweight champion, and now holds double gold.
“Ibushi always wanted the IWGP heavyweight championship, but there was always someone in front of him. Kenny Omega was in front of him. Tetsuya Naito was too. So were Okada and Tanahashi. But now it’s Ibushi. He’s finally shown the world that he’s the guy. “
Along with Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton, Romero brought a unique perspective to his comment. In a fighting world that is often criticized for its predictability and lack of genuine surprise, Ibushi’s title win felt especially real for Romero.
“Seeing Ibushi win was a very emotional moment,” says Romero. “There was an innocent and healthy person who rose to the top of the industry. Ibushi came from this small fishing town on the outskirts of Tokyo. He was the only one who believed he would go this far. It made me think of my own journey. I didn’t start in New Japan Pro Wrestling. I was an independent wrestler and my first match was in front of 30 people at a Mexican restaurant in Rialto, California. Professional wrestling always reflects what is happening in the world, and Ibushi’s victory was a ray of hope. This moment meant a lot to a lot of people. “
Ibushi greatly benefited from the presence of White, who is fast becoming one of the main villains in wrestling. After the loss, White cut a scandalously compelling promo about his supposedly imminent departure from New Japan out of frustration at being defeated.
“Jay White is only 28 years old, but he feels like he’s been fighting for 30 years,” says Romero. “The match between Jay and Kota was an absolute masterpiece of good versus evil. Jay is the future of New Japan. That’s how talented he is. In a moment, he will be the owner of everything. “
In the future, there are endless possibilities for Ibushi in the main event. There are inevitable rematches with Naito and White, as well as a looming showdown with Kazuchika Okada.
“Okada is the most dominant heavyweight champion of all time, but he’s never been a double champion,” says Romero. “He’s never had both titles, so he’s in line for a shot. Sanada reached the final of G1, so he is also in line. “
Another part of the card that particularly resonated with Romero was the Shingo Takagi-Jeff Cobb match for the NEVER openweight championship. Cobb has long been one of the most underrated talents in wrestling and, after delivering some of the best matches in wrestling in 2020, the versatile Takagi is set to have a great year in 2021.
“With Kota Ibushi saying that he wants to unify the heavyweight and intercontinental titles, that means the NEVER Openweight title could suddenly become one of the two best titles in New Japan,” says Romero. “And the timing is great because Shingo Takagi is incredible at what he does, and one of the best fighters in the world. Defeated Jeff Cobb on a banger. It was two incredible athletes who did it. Takagi is going to be the next star in wrestling. “
New Japan also had its New year dash Wednesday’s program, which was built around the domain of the Ospreay Empire, Great-O-Khan and Cobb, who were defeated in Fight Kingdom 15. The next show will take place on January 17 at Tokyo’s Korakuen Hall, and Romero shared his excitement for the near future of New Japan Pro Wrestling.
“This past year was different for me,” says Romero. “I was out of Japan for 10 months. I have dedicated my life, every bit of myself, to this company and helping it grow, so I was devastated when I couldn’t be here for the past year. It felt amazing to be back and watch these games.
“Professional wrestling is more than what people say. This moment proved it. The whole world is down, and it was amazing to see this little golden star at the peak and bring a light. It happened in Tokyo, but it was felt around the world, and Kota Ibushi brought professional wrestling back to life. “
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.