One could argue that January is the greatest month in wrestling every year, as it’s bookended by NJPW’s and WWE’s best shows of the year, Wrestle Kingdom and Royal Rumble respectively. (Yes, I’d rank Rumble over Mania. Sue me.)
But 2021 feels a little different now that there are more prominent players in the game. AEW was around last January and delivered with their Homecoming show on New Year’s Day, but it wasn’t as big a deal as this year’s offerings. Similarly, Impact Wrestling has always had pretty solid shows in the first month of the year, but with their recent partnership with AEW allowing them to have Kenny Omega headline their show, there’s a lot more weight (and eyeballs) that comes with this year’s Hard to Kill.
It’s an exciting month for wrestling, and with wrestling being more accessible than ever, I not only want to tell you what the cards are, but also where to find them and how much they cost. So, without further adieu, let’s get into the shows!
NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 15, Night 1
Jan. 4, 2 a.m. EST, NJPW World, ¥999 a month
Quick friendly advice: NJPW World is cheaper than FITE, but you need to be on your toes. They charge you on the 1st of every month, not after 30 days, so get it close to the beginning of the month if you can. Got it? Okay.
The King of Sports kicks off the year with its annual Tokyo Dome show, and just like last year, the event is being split across two nights. Night 1 has the fuller card of the two, as the only match that doesn’t have every competitor announced as of writing is the purposefully mysterious pre-show New Japan Rumble.
The first of two headline matches on Night 1 are New Japan’s Ace, Kazuchika Okada, taking on the man who recently betrayed his stable, Will Ospreay. Okada and Ospreay are two of the greatest in-ring performers on the planet, and their matches always deliver. Now that Ospreay is a full-on heel, however, there is some welcome heat being added to a match that could even out-do their encounter in the 2019 G1 Climax tournament (which, for what it’s worth, got a 5.75 star rating in the Wrestling Observer)..
And in the main event, the IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight Champion Testsuya Naito will defend his championship against G1 Climax 30 winner Kota Ibushi. You’re going to have to watch this match with your hands over your eyes, as these two often duke it out at a break-neck pace with neck-breaking moves. I’ll go a little more into detail on this match when breaking down the Night 2 card.
Card for Wrestle Kingdom 15, Night 1:
- IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intecontinental Double Championship: Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Kota Ibushi
- Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay
- Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Great O-Khan
- IWGP United States Heavyweight Right-to-Challenge Contract: KENTA (c) vs. Satoshi Kojima
- IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Dangerous Tekkers (Zack Sabre Jr. and Taichi) (c) vs. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tanga Loa and Tama Tonga)
- Best of the Super Juniors Winner vs. Super J Cup Winner: Hiromu Takahashi vs. El Phantasmo
- (Pre-Show) New Japan Rumble: Participants TBA
NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 15, Night 2
Jan. 5, 3 a.m. EST, NJPW World, ¥999 a month
Night 2 is headlined by a pair of sequel matches, as both the Jr. Heavyweight and Double Heavyweight Championship matches are dependent on the previous night’s winners.
Bullet Club leader Jay White made NJPW history when he became the first man to defeat the G1 Climax winner in a briefcase match between the tournament and Wrestle Kingdom, so after Ibushi and Naito tear each other apart on the 4th, he gets a clear shot at the winner on the 5th.
If Naito wins it all, he may be able to finally pull off the Los Ingobernables roll call that he missed out on last year. If Ibushi wins it all, he can forever tie himself to the lore of New Japan and, like Tanahashi and Nakamura before him, become a god. And if White wins it all, he gets to rub it in everyone’s faces, and isn’t that about the same as the other two?
Another Bullet Club face is in the co-main event, as Taiji Ishimori faces the winner of Night 1’s Takahashi vs Phantasmo match. Ishimori has recent history with both men, defeating Takahashi to win the belt last summer after Ishimori and Phantasmo lost the Jr. Tag Team Championships at Night 2 of last year’s Wrestle Kingdom. Whether it’s a match rooted in revenge or one rooted in brotherhood, there’s high drama all around!
Card for Wrestle Kingdom 15, Night 2:
- IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Double Championship: TBA (c) vs Jay White
- IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Taiji Ishimori (c) vs. TBA
- SANADA vs. EVIL
- NEVER Openweight Championship: Shingo Takagi (c) vs. Jeff Cobb
- IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado (c) vs. Master Wato & Ryuske Taguchi
- King of Pro Wrestling 2021 4-Way: Participants TBA
AEW New Year’s Smash, Night 1
Jan. 6, 8 p.m. EST, TNT, Free
New Year’s Smash was pushed back a week after the sudden and tragic passing of Jon “Brodie Lee” Huber, but now AEW is getting back on schedule with a bit of a composite card that mixes the previously announced Night 1 and Night 2 cards.
The biggest news here lies with the two championship matches on display, as Kenny Omega defends his AEW World Championship for the first time in the main event match against Rey Fenix. The two have had great matches in AAA, Northeast Wrestling, and even tag matches in AEW, but the stakes have never been as high as this. Though this is their second singles encounter with a world championship on the line, Omega as The Collector is a whole different beast than regular-old fighting champion Fenix was in 2019.
The other championship match features one of the best stories going in AEW as Women’s World Champion Hikaru Shida takes on Abadon. Abadon debuted in a losing effort against Shida last year on AEW Dark, but both competitors have changed a lot since then. Abadon is a lot more malicious than before, and while Shida has powered up enough since their last match to become champion, the champion’s fear of her challenger can only do her harm on Wednesday the 6th.
Card for New Year’s Smash, Night 1:
- AEW World Championship: Kenny Omega (c) vs. Rey Fenix
- AEW Women’s World Championship: Hikaru Shida (c) vs. Abadon
- Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson) & SCU (Christopher Daniels & Frankie Kazarian) vs. The Acclaimed (Max Caster & Anthony Bowens) & TH2 (Angelico & Jack Evans)
- Cody Rhodes vs. Matt Sydal
- Jake Hager vs. Wardlow
- Promo: Jon Moxley returns
- Guest Commentary: Chris Jericho
- Special Appearance: Snoop Dogg
NXT New Year’s Evil
Jan. 6, 8 p.m. EST, USA Network, free
A few channels over, NXT will be putting on their own TV special with New Year’s Evil, another one of their callbacks to WCW. The show’s going to have it all — lucha, hardcore, simulated MMA, you name it — but two matches go above the rest.
First is the return of Karrion Kross, who was never beaten for the NXT Championship and will likely prove his worthiness to the throne by destroying Damian Priest. It’ll be a shame to see Priest go, but it’s a sacrifice that must be made.
In the main event, we see a rematch between Kyle O’Reilly and Finn Balor, who had one of the matches of the year in 2020. Will Balor win and then go on to face Kross to prove who the “true” champion is, or will O’Reilly win the big one and become the face of NXT that we all know he can be?
Card for New Year’s Evil:
- NXT Championship: Finn Balor (c) vs. Kyle O’Reilly
- Last Woman Standing: Rhea Ripley vs. Raquel Gonzalez
- Fight Pit: Tommaso Ciampa vs. Timothy Thatcher
- NXT Cruiserweight Championship: Santos Escobar vs. Gran Metalik
- Karrion Kross vs. Damian Priest
AEW New Year’s Smash Night 2
Jan. 13, 8 p.m. EST, TNT, Free
In a match that’s been built up since May of last year, Darby Allin will finally go one-on-one with Brian Cage, and now there’s gold on the line. It will be interesting to see if Allin’s new TNT Championship design will be in by then, as his current red and gold belt has been retired in honor of Brodie Lee and given to the new TNT Champion For Life, Brodie Lee, Jr.
Any match on this show could likely be match of the night, but my money is on Thunder Rosa vs. Britt Baker, as the two of them have had a very heated rivalry that has done a good job legitimizing AEW’s women’s division. They’re both at the top of their game, and it should make for a great clash of styles.
Card for AEW New Year’s Smash Night 2:
- TNT Championship: Darby Allin (c) vs. Brian Cage
- PAC vs. Eddie Kingston
- Thunder Rosa vs. Dr. Britt Baker, DMD
- Jurassic Express vs. FTR
- Miro vs. Chuck Taylor
IMPACT Wrestling Hard to Kill
Jan. 16, 8 p.m. EST, FITE (or Traditional PPV), $39.99
I don’t personally follow IMPACT as closely as I used to, but one thing I will say is that they’re really good at picking up buzz every once in a while. Slammiversary 2020 had the build with a lot of WWE guys joining their roster. Last year’s Hard to Kill PPV saw Tessa Blanchard become the first woman to win a major promotion’s world championship.
Enter: Kenny Omega.
Omega and Don Callis stealing the AEW Championship from Jon Moxley and taking it to IMPACT Wrestling was one of the biggest headlines at the tail end of 2020, and now 2021 will start off with Kenny’s in-ring debut for the promotion as a member of the Super Elite. Omega, Doc Gallows, and Karl Anderson will be taking on IMPACT World Champion Rich Swann and the Motor City Machine Guns (Chris Sabin & Alex Shelley).
The card isn’t fully booked just yet, but between the revival of the Knockouts Tag Team Championships and the 6-man main event, there’s already a lot going on. Hopefully the rest of the card is enough to justify the $40 price point.
GCW Fight Forever
Jan. 29, 8 p.m. EST, YouTube, Free
I can’t tackle every single wrestling event this month, so this section goes out to all of the DDT, TJPW, Dragon Gate, and even NJPW shows that I’m skipping out on. Heck, this even goes out to the Raw Legends’ Night event happening on Jan. 4, which should be dope if you’re a big WWE guy.
The reason I go with Game Changer Wrestling’s “Fight Forever” here is because of what it’s seeking to be: the longest wrestling show of all time, taking place over 24 hours. From 8 p.m. on January 29 to 8 p.m. on January 30, Joey Janela and his wonderful band of misfits are looking to create a full day of entertainment live and free on YouTube.
No card has been announced as of yet, but if GCW is the company promoting this show, you can expect to find some really enjoyable wrestlers and wild gimmicks throughout its hilariously lengthy runtime.
WWE Royal Rumble
Jan. 31, 7 p.m. EST (Kickoff @ 6 p.m.), WWE Network, $9.99 a month
We end here with the Royal Rumble, where 30 competitors enter the ring over the course of about an hour and throw each other over the top rope to become the last wrestler standing and secure a spot in a main event match at WrestleMania. And since we get both men and women’s rumbles now, that’s double the fun!
Rumble matches are rarely bad — which is exactly why 2015 stands out — and ever since Nakamura and Asuka broke the years-long streak of bad-to-okay winners in 2018, they’ve only multiplied in terms of enjoyment factor. The only two matches officially announced are the Rumble matches themselves (and I pray that Daniel Bryan wins — both of them if he needs to), but honestly, I’d still watch if those made up the entire card.
2020 was a bad year all around, and the reasons for that bad year don’t go away just because 2021 is here. But one thing that kept 2020 bearable was the contributions that the world of pro wrestling gave to us, and if this month is any indication, 2021 will only be better than what we’ve already had.
No matter how many of these shows you dare to watch, I hope you all enjoy this incredibly stacked month of pro wrestling.
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