On Sunday, July 25, New Japan Pro Wrestling will return to the Tokyo Dome for Wrestle Grand Slam. The event, which was originally scheduled for May 15 and postponed for pandemic-related reasons, will be NJPW’s first show in the stadium aside from its annual January event in about sixteen years and is set to include defenses of most of the company’s major titles.
Wrestle Grand Slam is going to look and sound more like January 2021’s Wrestle Kingdom 15 than the average NJPW Tokyo Dome show, with limited audience capacity because of restrictions on event sizes, as well as limits on crowd cheering. More importantly, the event also faces a last-minute issue: Kota Ibushi, who was set to challenge Shingo Takagi for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship in the main event, was recently diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia. Hopefully he gets well soon, but while he has only been removed from shows on the days leading up to Wrestle Grand Slam so far, it’s very possible that he’ll end up unable to perform in the Dome.
Whoever’s in the main event, the show will go on (barring another, bigger emergency) with a card that includes other matches with plenty of potential. With that being said, here’s everything you need to know about NJPW Wrestle Grand Slam, including the maybe-main event, the other feuds, and when and how to watch it.
When and how to watch Wrestle Grand Slam
Wrestle Grand Slam will take place on Sunday, July 25, with a pre-show kicking off at 4 PM Japan time (12 AM Pacific/3 AM Eastern) and the main card starting at 5 PM. It will be available to watch live and on-demand, like all televised New Japan shows, on the streaming service NJPW World with a monthly subscription of 999 yen (about 9 USD.) The show can also be purchased as a pay-per-view from Fite TV for 19.99 USD. NJPW World will have live commentary in Japanese and English; Fite will also have a French option.
(Also, self-promotion time: you’ll find a review/recap of Wrestle Grand Slam, as well as other major NJPW shows, here on FanFyte.)
Wrestle Grand Slam is part of a big weekend for NJPW
Something that makes Wrestle Grand Slam unique aside from its historical context and scheduling issues is that it will be the fourth big New Japan show in as many days. Ahead of WGS on the 25th, NJPW will put on two nights of Summer Struggle in Osaka on July 22-23, followed by Summer Struggle in Nagoya on July 24. (Crucially, the full names of these events are actually “The movie ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ presents SUMMER STRUGGLE in CITY NAME.”)
Each of these shows will include two singles matches, with the Osaka events hyping up the heavyweight tag title feud with Sanada vs. ZSJ and Naito vs. Taichi on Night 1 and the opposite pairings on Night 2, and the Nagoya show featuring Evil vs. Ishii and Tanahashi vs. Kenta. Either some or all of these matches, depending on your preferences, are as good-looking or more as anything on the Wrestle Grand Slam card, and are worth checking out if you’re checking in with NJPW this week.
The winner of either Evil vs. Ishii or Tana vs. Kenta could also easily be the next challenger for the World Heavyweight Championship. That sentence originally ended with “if NJPW’s going to run another title defense before the G1,” but if Ibushi is unable to perform on Sunday, it’s very possible that one of these men will end up facing Takagi in the Wrestle Grand Slam main event. I’d bet on a big Tanahashi win in Nagoya.
What’s happening at Wrestle Grand Slam?
Pre-show: KOPW 2021 New Japan Ranbo with handcuffs
Since the KOPW trophy was established last summer, it has only been held by Toru Yano. His defenses so far, for which fans have voted the match stipulations, have involved hoods, a large bag of sand, and other shenanigans, and his defense on the Wrestle Grand Slam pre-show is set to take the title in a slightly different direction. KOPW will be defended in a battle royal with handcuffs (as chosen by fan vote over a battle royal with blindfolds), in which wrestlers can be eliminated by pinfall, submission, disqualification, being thrown over the top rope, or “being handcuffed to the ropes or ringside area.” An additional twist is that if a wrestler gets handcuffed to anything, he has to stay that way for the rest of the match.
Like a lot of KOPW-related things, this sounds a bit like DDT-lite, but it could be funny depending on how the match is put together. The participants in the KOPW rumble, or even how many of them there will be, have yet to be announced, so there’s still a lot of room for speculation here.
1) Mega Coaches (Rocky Romero and Ryusuke Taguchi) vs. El Phantasmo and Taiji Ishimori (c) for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
Ryusuke Taguchi and Rocky Romero reunited their on-and-off tag team, the Mega Coaches, after Romero returned to Japan earlier this month. They’ve since laid out a challenge for the junior tag titles after getting a pin over El Phantasmo and faced both tag champs in singles matches. The Coaches have also committed to solving the mystery of Bullet Club’s self-proclaimed cutest tag team’s secret weapon by exposing whatever ELP has in his boot that makes his Sudden Death superkick super-powerful.
The build for this match has so far been a mix of straight wrestling and comedic or gimmicky moments, and it’s possible the title match could veer sharply in one direction or the other. Either Taguchi and Romero will end up leaving the Tokyo Dome as first-time tag champs together (for Romero’s ninth reign total and Taguchi’s seventh), or Phantasmo and Ishimori will continue their third reign in a division that, aside from the Coaches, currently has three active tag teams.
2) Robbie Eagles vs. El Desperado (c) for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Since El Desperado’s emotional, unexpected junior title win in February, he’s main-evented the anniversary show as the last challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, held and lost the junior tag titles, and defended against Yoh and Ishimori while making it clear that his rivalry with the injured Hiromu Takahashi is still simmering on the back burner. His upcoming match with Robbie Eagles doesn’t have much of a story—Eagles challenged via video message after not wrestling in NJPW since December 2020—but it should deliver in the ring.
If this match was happening at a regular Tokyo Dome show in a regular year, I could see taking issue with Eagles not doing anything to “earn” this challenge, but with ongoing travel restrictions and a smaller junior division than usual, it’s just nice to see another good wrestler return to New Japan.
3) Kazuchika Okada vs. Jeff Cobb
Okada vs. Cobb is both wrestlers’ first big NJPW singles match since their losses at Dominion, Cobb to Ibushi and Okada to Takagi in the match for the then-vacant world title. Either Okada will beat his third United Empire guy in a row and get back to his winning ways, or Cobb will get his first NJPW-in-Japan singles win since joining the Empire that isn’t over Kojima. Whoever comes out on top, this pairing has a lot of potential in the ring and delivery the visual of tall-ass Okada getting scooped up in Cobb’s arms like a baby—a win for wrestling fans everywhere.
4) Dangerous Tekkers (Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr.) vs. Tetsuya Naito and Sanada (c) for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
The feud between Dangerous Tekkers (Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr.) and the team of Naito and Sanada has been one of NJPW’s most fun recent feuds, with the L.I.J. duo going out of their way to annoy their rivals with things like a “trick” “contract signing” and “do you like us, check yes or no” questions. After dealing with this and unexpectedly losing the tag titles in the main event of Summer Struggle in Sapporo earlier this month, Zack and Taichi now hate Naito more than ever (but still like Sanada), and got this rematch in the Tokyo Dome basically because they confronted L.I.J. backstage until they agreed to it.
Dangerous Tekkers and L.I.J. will have the chance to further amp up their feud with those four singles matches in Osaka before their rematch, and will probably end up doing more physical work this weekend than anyone else on the NJPW roster. With the past singles feuds between these wrestlers on top of their current angle, the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship match is also the part of the Wrestle Grand Slam card with the most build by far, and could be one of the better matches on the show.
5) Kota Ibushi vs. Shingo Takagi (c) for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship
Shingo Takagi called out Kota Ibushi for a match right after winning the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship at Dominion, but the two wrestlers rarely met in the ring to promote it. If Ibushi ends up wrestling on Sunday, it’ll be after having missed every televised NJPW show since July 2 due to illness.
While champion and challenger haven’t done much wrestling or cut many promos ahead of their match, New Japan did release a video interview with each wrestler about the bout and a hype video that includes highlights from both. The interviews feature each man talking about his motivation going into the match—Ibushi, the creator of the controversial new title, wants to hold it for good after losing it on his first defense last time, while Takagi says his reign is just getting started—as well as their histories, mostly outside of New Japan, as friends, peers, quasi-rivals, and wrestlers who were both born in 1982 and debuted in 2004. With two Japanese wrestlers main-eventing the Tokyo Dome during the Tokyo Olympics, the promotion has also had a patriotic bent, with Takagi and Ibushi both talking about wanting to show the strength of Japanese pro wrestling to the world.
Aside from all this, Ibushi vs. Takagi is a matchup between two of NJPW’s most intense wrestlers and two fan-favorites, and a pairing that’s only had one previous singles match, in the 2020 G1 (Takagi got the W; Ibushi went on to win the tournament.) If Ibushi gets pulled from Wrestle Grand Slam, the next time he and Takagi get the chance to knock it out of the park one-on-one is sure to be a big deal.