New Japan returned to the Tokyo Dome for the rescheduled Wrestle Grand Slam, with Hiroshi Tanahashi substituting into the main event to take on Shingo Takagi for the IWGP title.

Quick Results
Chase Owens won the New Japan Ranbo with Handcuffs to win the Provisional KOPW 2021 in 35:35 (**)
El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori pinned Ryusuke Taguchi & Rocky Romero in 20:55 to retain the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships in 20:55 (***¼)
Robbie Eagles submitted El Desperado to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship in 19:57 (***¾)
Kazuchika Okada pinned Jeff Cobb in 19:23 (***½)
Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi pinned Tetsuya Naito & SANADA in 37:58 to win the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships (***)
Shingo Takagi pinned Hiroshi Tanahashi to retain the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship in 37:26 (****½)

For the third time this year, we’re at the Tokyo Dome – with news being confirmed in the hours ahead of the show that Kota Ibushi’s aspiration pneumonia would indeed rule him out of the show. Hiroshi Tanahashi gets the nod as the replacement.

English commentary comes from Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton.

New Japan Ranbo With Handcuffs for KOPW 2021
All we know is that there’ll be 22 people in this, and Chase Owens posted a photo on Twitter before the show saying he was there…

There’s handcuffs on the ropes and guard rails – eliminations come via pinfall, submission or getting handcuffed. Yup. Chase Owens was out first, with Great-O-Khan second. O-Khan’s early offence was stopped via hair pull as we raced to our next entrant: Tomoaki Honma. He’s chopped and misses a Kokeshi as Togi Makabe joins the field, not exactly rushing to help his tag partner. When he did hit the ring, a double clothesline from Makabe starts the ticker, with DOUKI out next.

Makabe’s chucked out at 5:30 by DOUKI and O-Khan… Tiger Mask enters while Honma’s pulled into a DOUKI Chokey, while Honma went out at 6:10 via handcuffing. Chase had been handcuffed too, but somehow slipped free as he stayed with O-Khan. Yoshinobu Kanemaru’s in next, followed by Minoru Suzuki. Uh oh. Suzuki went straight for Owens, taking him to the corner to tease a ‘cuffing, before SHO’s music hit. O-Khan clobbers Suzuki with Mongolian chops before Suzuki and Kanemaru ganged up on SHO before YOH handily drew the next entry spot to make the save. Trading strikes with Suzuki proved to be a poor choice for YOH, as we waited for the next man out: Yuji Nagata.

Nagata made a beeline for Suzuki, with the pair throwing elbows and strikes. Satoshi Kojima’s next as Nagata and Kojima went over the top and onto the apron. SHO’s superkick knocks Suzuki off the apron at 16:48 for an elimination, while Hiroyoshi Tenzan kept up the “have the tag partners follow each other out” entry order. SHO tries to save YOH on the apron, but Great-O-Khan tosses him out as SHO, YOH and Kanemaru went at 17:50. Tenzan goes after O-Khan, trading Mongolian chops, before BUSHI hit the ringside area, choosing not to join in. Kojima accidentally knocks Tenzan off the apron at 19:44 for an elimination, while Master Wato came out as Kojima was thrown out at 20:22.

Tiger Mask and DOUKI hit a pair of topes, while Chase Owens grabbed BUSHI and looked to use the handcuffs. Tiger Mask and BUSHI got eliminated by cuffs at 22:00-ish, while Dick Togo came out to EVIL’s music as an apparent substitute. O-Khan hits a pair of Eliminators to get rid of DOUKI and Master Wato at 23:38. Out comes Tomohiro Ishii, and he went straight for Togo, starting the Benny Hill chase. Next up is Yujiro Takahashi, who came out just in time to save Togo from getting cuffed. YOSHI-HASHI comes next to save Ishii from a triple-team, but couldn’t stop Yujiro pulling Ishii off the apron at 28:01 for an elimination. Togo goes seconds later, while Hirooki Goto joined.

Goto saves YOSHI-HASHI, while Ishii chased Dick Togo to the back. Poor Honma’s still stood there on his lonesome, cuffed to the ropes. KENTA’s out in the #21 spot, and low bridges Goto to the outside at 30:51. Toru Yano is the last one out, of course, as Nagata got handcuffed to the rails at 31:30. Chase Owens is waiting with a turnbuckle pad for Yano, but instead Yano stops to handcuff O-Khan to the rails at 32:07. In the ring, KENTA loses via handcuffing at 32:38, while Yujiro cuffed YOSHI-HASHI out of the match at 33:19. We’re down to Yano, Yujiro and Owens, but Yujiro’s low bridged to the outside at 33:50, before Chase chased into the corner and got rolled up for a near-fall, with KENTA stomping the pin apart.

A dropkick from Owens stops Yano for a two-count as YOSHI-HASHI broke up the pin, before Owens threw powder in Yano’s eyes. The Jewel Heist lariat nearly beats Yano, before a Knee-Trigger and a package piledriver ended this as Chase Owens unseated Yano of the fake Oscar trophy. Without any surprises, this felt like the “get everyone on the card” match, and while Ranbos going long is the norm, it didn’t seem like anyone wanted to win aside from Chase Owens. Like most of the KOPW gimmick matches, let us never speak of this again. **

Post-match, Owens ties up Yano in a STF before leaving with the trophy.

We’ve got no grand entrance ramp – like for the pre-show Ranbos, everyone’s coming through the dugouts. The main show starts with the formal announcement of Kota Ibushi’s withdrawal, a move we all saw coming when Tanahashi made the challenge yesterday.

Hiromu Takahashi’s out to warm up the crowd. He’s been cleared to compete again so this may be the last time he does this… for now, because he pre-emptively challenged for the IWGP Junior title, regardless of who wins tonight.

There’s also no big entrance video, presumably because the now-cancelled Shingo/Ibushi match was all over it. Oh well. Have this shot of the Dome…

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Ryusuke Taguchi & Rocky Romero vs. Bullet Club (El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori) (c)
The Mega Coaches seem to have the champions’ number, but that Sudden Death is the one weapon they need to avoid.

The challengers reliance on hip attacks early forced them to double-fake out as they avoided landing in atomic drops, before ELP headed outside and hit the Sudden Death on one of the Young Lions. Back inside, a step-up ‘rana from Rocky takes Phantasmo outside, only for Ishimori to come back with a clothesline after having been used as a stool. Phantasmo bites on Rocky before we broke into the back rakes as the Bullet Club dictated the pace. Taguchi’s pulled off the apron by ELP, but manages to get back up after a double ‘rana from Romero bought him time to make that tag. Taguchi initially stutters as his hip attack’s countered, but hits it on the second try after a fake-out, heading up for a Bummer-Ye… which Ishimori countered.

A handspring into a wheelbarrow from Ishimori leads to roll-ups, but a handful of tights doesn’t get the win. Rocky’s back with a Shiranui for a near-fall, before Taguchi’s Gourdbuster drew a two-count. Another Shiranui’s blocked as Romero fell to a handspring enziguiri. ELP’s back to capitalise with a Quebrada for a near-fall, before a Styles Clash flattened Rocky for another two-count. My feed drops here as Phantasmo needed Ishimori’s help to escape an armbar. We’re back with Rocky and Phantasmo trading right hands, before Ishimori and Taguchi tagged in – the former hitting a rude flying knee into Taguchi off the top. An attempted CCK-ism sees Rocky break it up with a Doomsday Device onto the champions, which led to a nasty reverse ‘rana, before Ishimori met Taguchi’s arse.

Rocky’s tornado DDT and a Taguchi Bummer-Ye is next for a near-fall, before the Black Hole Vacation – a Wheelbarrow/Codebreaker combo – led to a near-fall as Ishimori grabbed the rope in the nick of time. From there, Rocky heads up top, but gets shoved to the floor as Ishimori’s Code Red took care of Taguchi. The challengers are on the outside, with ELP heading up top to leap onto them on the other side of the guard rails… and Phantasmo clears it with a moonsault off the top! Phantasmo apparently tweaked his ankle on the landing…

Back inside, a whirlibird neckbreaker gets ELP a two-count, before the Thunder Kiss splash off the top led to a near-fall. A Sudden Death drops Rocky like a stone, before Taguchi redirected a second one into Ishimori’s path as things picked up. Blue Thunder Bomb gets Taguchi a near-fall, before he wrapped ELP in Oh My Garankle, loosening ELP’s boot to try and force a submission… but ELP pulls himself up as the boot comes off! Taguchi hands the boot to the referee, but Ishimori stops him from looking inside… distracting as a low blow and CR2 gets the win, with Ishimori making damn sure that boot wasn’t inspected. Finally some progression with the loaded boot gimmick but the champions retain after a good opener, with the Taguchi/Rocky team being a breath of fresh air here in what’s been a stale tag division. ***¼

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Robbie Eagles vs. El Desperado (c)
Winner faces Hiromu Takahashi down the line…

Eagles originally showed little sign of the knee injury he was given last night, but Desperado goes right for the knee to start with, which hindered Eagles with basic things like grounded headscissors. A low dropkick from Eagles caused him some more trouble, as Desperado headed outside… Eagles fakes out a dive, but jammed his knee as he backflipped off the ropes to taunt Desperado. Desperado hits a low dropkick to the knee in the corner, then tied up Eagles for a Dragon screw. Of course, Desperado homes in on the knee as if his life depended on it, but Eagles manages to sneak in a few kicks before Despy just kicked the knee out again. It was a smart game plan from Despy, neutralising a lot of Eagles arsenal from the off.

Eagles crumbles as he was whipped towards the corner, but he manages to sneak ahead on the floor, with a 619 to Desperado to send the champion over the guard rails. Back inside, Eagles ties up Desperado with a Ron Miller Special, but the hold seemed to hurt Eagles as much as it did Desperado, as the champion pulled his way to the ropes. Pulling Desperado back into the middle of the ring, Eagles tied up the knee as he looked to give Despy a taste of his own medicine, before an eye rake stopped the Turbo Backpack.

The pair trade elbow strikes, then kicks to the knee, before Desperado punched out Eagles. Guitarra de Angel finally lands for a near-fall, before Eagles ‘rana’d out of Pinche Loco for another near-fall. Desperado pushed out of a Ron Miller Special, then hit a spinebuster en route to Numero Dos, only for Eagles to finally counter out with a roll-up. Eagles keeps going for the Ron Miller, then for roll-ups, before he kicked out Despy’s knee. A Shiranui’s blocked as Desperado nearly nicks a win with El Es Claro, before both men clipped each other as a punch and a head kick were thrown together. Eagles is back up to hit a Turbo Backpack for a two-count, before a 450 splash to Desperado’s leg landed flush.

From there it’s back to the Ron Miller Special, which Eagles held on Desperado until the eventual submission! It’s an emotional win for Eagles, who gutted out the knee injury from the start and managed to end Despy’s five-month run with the title. Hiromu’s next, and it’s smart they’re delaying another go around of Hiromu/Desperado you’d have to say. ***¾

Jeff Cobb vs. Kazuchika Okada
A former Olympian in a high profile match during the Olympics? Why the hell not!

Cobb took Okada to the ropes to start with, before Okada rolled him to the mat for a low dropkick. A neckbreaker gets an early one-count, as Cobb fought back with a shoulder charge before he dropkicked Okada off the top rope. Back inside, Cobb’s backbreakers and clotheslines in the corner get him a two-count, but Okada manages to hit back with a flapjack. Okada’s DDT leads to a two-count, before he avoided an Oklahoma Stampede to dropkick Cobb off the top and back outside. A trip to the guard rails sees Okada boot Cobb over the rails, before he pulled Cobb back in for a draping DDT off the barriers. Cobb blocks a neckbreaker slam, but gets caught with a Money Clip.

Cobb breaks it, then looked to superplex Okada to the floor… Okada breaks free, but an attempted plancha gets caught and turned into a running suplex on the outside. It led to the count-out tease, with Okada seemingly having trouble with his hip and lower back from that suplex… Okada beats the count, but got met with the Oklahoma Stampede for a near-fall. A standing moonsault’s next from Cobb for another two-count, then a pull-into a Spin Cycle as Okada just about got up in time. Cobb adds a rebound German to that, but a Tour of the Islands was thwarted with a dropkick, then another as Cobb tried to fight back. From there, Okada backslides Cobb into a clothesline, before Cobb ducked a Rainmaker… and hit one of his own! An exchange of strikes led to a Doctor Bomb from Cobb for a near-fall, before a Tour of the Islands was blocked.

Cobb’s headbutt has Okada down, before the Tour of Islands again got countered, but this time Okada’s Rainmaker counter gets blocked, so a cradle/sit-down pin led to the win for Okada after a relatively frantic home stretch. The acoustics/setting here really hampered things, as while Okada bumped like the Dome was full, a great deal of this could easily fall flat if you weren’t invested in the match. With no other challengers obvious, I do wonder… is Okada next in line for that new belt? ***½

IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Suzuki-gun (Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr.) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito & SANADA) (c)
The champion team edged ahead in the singles matches earlier in the week – but will they lose the titles they won just a fortnight ago? Me? I’m just praying my stopwatch doesn’t tick over 30:00…

Naito and Sabre start by trading holds, with Sabre countering into a cradle for an early one-count, before they resumed the back and forth en route to a stand-off. Tags bring in SANADA and Taichi, whose staredown broke as SANADA went for a wristlock… which instantly ended in the ropes. Same again from a hammerlock, before things spilled outside with Taichi’s choking this time using the camera cable. Returning to the ring, Sabre’s cravat holds SANADA as Taichi tagged in to throttle SANADA some more. Sabre’s back, but his wristlock’s floated out of as those two stayed supremely even ahead of a dropkick to the knee from SANADA. Taichi runs in but too a ‘rana from Naito, before SANADA took Sabre outside to wrap his leg in the rails.

Kevin Kelly disappears to fight the wasp again as Naito worked over Sabre’s leg, leading to a delayed Combinacion Cabron to the knee, while SANADA returned with a double sledge to the knee. They focus on that body part for a spell, before Sabre found a way through, pulling Naito to the mat for a neck crank. Taichi gets the tag in, rolling down Naito for a kick to the back before SANADA ran in and ate an enziguiri. Naito ducks an Axe bomber to hit a neckbreaker, before an atomic drop from SANADA turned things around enough for Taichi to get caught in a Paradise Lock. The pair throttle each other after Taichi was freed, leading to a leaping head kick from Taichi as Sabre cleared Naito off the apron.

A Last Ride from Taichi’s countered with a ‘rana from SANADA ahead of a Tiger Driver for a near-fall. SANADA misses a moonsault, which sparks a Parade of Stuff, some of it focusing on Sabre’s knee before an Axe Bomber from Taichi left SANADA laying. Off come Taichi’s trousers, but he took too long for the follow-up thrust kick as SANADA’s attempt at a Skull End was pushed away, with a head kick leaving both men down again. Sabre’s in, all sweary and stuff, as he trades pinning attempts with SANADA… a jack-knife cover nearly won it, before we had a callback to the double-pin earlier in the week, but both men kicked out. From there, Sabre ties up SANADA in a Cobra Twist, but after escaping SANADA twists Sabre’s knee before Naito returned for some more stomps.

Naito’s hung-up neckbreaker, then a regular one gets a two-count, with Sabre then having to pull himself up by Naito’s knee pads. He’s able to block Gloria, then apply an Octopus hold before an overhead kick countered Naito’s DDT. Sabre’s tornado DDT followed for a two-count, before SANADA made the save on a Zack Mephisto attempt, taking Taichi outside before a jack-knife roll-up to end some double-teaming drew a near-fall. From there, Sabre’s tied up with a scissored knee bar while Taichi’s restrained with SANADA’s Figure Four, but Zack’s able to make it to the ropes to force the break as we passed the 30-minute mark. Yay, I guess. The camera crew just about caught Sabre getting SPIKED on an Esperanza, before he rolled through Naito’s top rope ‘rana to apply a triangle armbar… which stopped Naito in his tracks as SANADA had to break out of a Holy Emperor Cross Mausoleum before saving Naito with a moonsault to Sabre.

Another Parade of Moves breaks out, leading to a Zack Driver that Sabre celebrated… but he couldn’t make the cover as the referee issued a standing ten-count. The count’s stopped as Sabre and Naito threw strikes on the mat, which increased in intensity as they got back to their feet. Taichi runs in again, and drops SANADA with a Dangerous backdrop driver, before a running elbow dumped Naito. Sabre got to his feet and landed a PK for a near-fall, but a kick-assisted Zack Driver’s stopped as Naito gets free, only for an attempt at Destino to get countered as Sabre pulled Naito into a Euro clutch for the title-regaining three-count. A two-week reign ends with a match that just about eclipsed the original in terms of length, but also felt like a good 15-20 minute match that “needed” to be doubled in length. Surely the first half showed keeping things tight was better, no? ***

Post-match, YOSHI-HASHI and Hirooki Goto walk out and point towards Sabre and Taichi. I guess they want a shot at the belts… but SANADA and Naito bicker with them for so long, Sabre and Taichi manage to leave before there’s anything formally said.

IWGP World Heavyweight Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shingo Takagi (c)
So sadly, Tomoaki Honma’s run replacing Kota Ibushi in the undercard tags don’t get him the spot as a replacement, as Tanahashi goes from almost-surely in the pre-show Bondage Rumble to main eventing the Tokyo Dome once again.

We open with a lock-up into the ropes, while Tanahashi tripped Shingo down for a side headlock. Another drop toe hold off the ropes trips Shingo, with Tanahashi going back to the side headlock before see-saw shoulder tackles had the challenger down. Shingo misses a back senton as Tanahashi came right back with an elbow drop instead, before a crossbody out of the corner was caught and turned into a death valley driver. A clothesline takes Tanahashi over the top rope to the outside, with Shingo standing on him by the rails for the sake of it. Tanahashi rolls back inside, but remained on the defensive, with Shingo’s grounded headlock being fought out of… before a back elbow and a lariat dropped the Ace.

Shingo’s side suplex gets a two-count, before a DDT and some elbows seemingly woke up Tanahashi, who came back with a dropkick and a Dragon screw. A leaping forearm out of the corner has Shingo down, with a flip senton off the middle rope adding to Tanahashi’s pile of two-counts. Another low dropkick drops Shingo, who got to the ropes to defend a Cloverleaf, before Tanahashi shrugged off a clothesline in the corner… only to get battered even more with chops and clotheslines. Tanahashi chases Shingo to the opposite corner with a dropkick, then followed him outside with the “hey, remember when he said he was retiring this?” High Fly Flow crossbody to the floor.

Back inside, elbows from Tanahashi a la Shibata wear down Shingo ahead of the hesitation dropkick. A Twist and Shout neckbreaker follows, with Tanahashi rolling them together for a hattrick, before a Slingblade was countered into noshigami, complete with a nasty landing for Tanahashi. Shingo followed up with a wheelbarrow German suplex, then a sliding lariat for a two-count, before Tanahashi went back to the well with a dropkick to the knee. Shingo shrugs it off, but a grounded Dragon screw keeps Tanahashi ahead, as did one in the corner. Another one yanks Shingo off the top rope, before a Cloverleaf rolled Shingo over before the ropes saved the champion. Heading outside, Shingo goes after Tanahashi’s oft-injured knee as he jarred it over his shoulder repeatedly, before a GTR off the guard rails shut out Tanahashi’s brief glimmer of hope for a comeback.

Referee Red Shoes Unno’s bouncing on the spot as he continued the count-out… Tanahashi beats it at 19, but was instantly met with a sliding forearm before Shingo pulled him up for a Made in Japan for a near-fall. A Pumping Bomber’s next, but Tanahashi kicks out at two, before he got battered with a barrage of elbows from Shingo. A headbutt drops Tanahashi to the mat, but the Ace is right back in it, shrugging off a clothesline before landing a strait-jacket German suplex for a near-fall. Tanahashi lands a Slingblade next, but Shingo’s out at two, before an Ace’s High crossbody left Shingo on his front. Shingo grabs Tanahashi to prevent a High Fly Flow, so Tanahashi clubbers him with a Kamigoye before nipping up top for a High Fly Flow… splashing Shingo as Tanahashi came within a split-second of winning the gold!

We’ve crossed the 30-minute mark here, which seemed to be the cue for Shingo to haul up Tanahashi for a Last of the Dragon… but he can’t make the cover. Instead, both men resume with strikes, as a rare Tanahashi headbutt clobbers Shingo to the mat, following with a German suplex as the close calls kept on coming. Going back up top, Tanahashi finds himself caught as Shingo went to throw some more strikes, following with some headbutts as he weakened Tanahashi for an avalanche Last of the Dragon. Shingo can’t make the count immediately, and the delay allowed Tanahashi enough recovery time to kick out. A palm strike from Shingo gets returned in kind, before a clothesline left both men laying… only for Shingo to get right back with a Last of the Dragon that took what was left out of Tanahashi… and earn the three-count. They went long, but it didn’t feel like it as Tanahashi made you believe on MANY occasions that he was about to win the title as a last minute replacement… while making fools out of those who’d written him off. The Ace isn’t done yet, but tonight was not his night as Shingo got his tricky first title defence out of the way. ****½

Post-match, Shingo challenged Tanahashi to a rubber match – given they’ve got a win each under their belts – then promised to wait for Kota Ibushi to recover so they could have their match. And then, the buzz killer. Out go the lights, as EVIL popped up on the big screen to challenge Shingo. The lights return with EVIL in the ring, dumping Shingo with Everything is EVIL to close out the show.

New Japan’s got a day off, and returns to Korakuen Hall on Tuesday as the Summer Struggle “tour” resumes with a string of seven Korakuens in 14 days. Once you get past the supremely odd visual (and accompanying acoustics) of the sparsely-attended Tokyo Dome – of course, due to the ongoing restrictions in Tokyo – this was on track to be one of New Japan’s better shows of the year as they didn’t give everything the “big match” treatment, and the associated 30-minute match times that tend to come with it in 2021. Problem is, one of those bouts that got the 2021 “big match treatment” dragged the show down, whereas the other, quite fittingly in a baseball stadium, was near-as-matters a home run. A show that just about sums up some of the issues in this current period for New Japan – some bright spots, but the seemingly-rigid format on the whole remains a turn-off.