The Good, The Bad and The Yano: A Look At NJPW’s New KOPW 2020 Title

New Japan’s newest title has been met with a very controversial and confused reaction.

“KOPW 2020” doesn’t have a physical championship belt. It will be exclusively defended in stipulation matches that are selected by the competitors and then voted on by the fans. Whoever is the champion at the end of the year will officially be crowned KOPW 2020 and the title will then reset in 2021. “Two out of three falls, ladder, steel cage matches, it could be anything.”

It’s a very unorthodox approach from New Japan and extremely unconventional for them.

There is a surge of speculation surrounding the new title. How zany or normal will the stipulations be? Is it necessary? Is it a good idea or have New Japan lost their collective minds?

Credit: NJPW

The Good
KOPW 2020 is an utterly blank slate. New Japan can make of it what they want. If they want it to be a dead serious title they can have the heavy hitters in contention, vicious brawls between the likes of Ishii and Goto. If they want it to be more comical then Yano and his shenanigans are undoubtedly primed and ready. There is a luxury in that the new title can be moulded however they like and by whoever the current champion is.

There is an abundance of talent on the New Japan roster and unfortunately not all of them can always be involved in chasing a title or building towards a special singles match. Of course there will still be those left on the outskirts but there is now another championship they can be vying for.

It can refresh previously tired match-ups. The SANADA vs Okada rivalry had its critics in 2019, a feud that saw the pair meet four times in singles matches with the shortest of them being just shy of 30 minutes long. The thought of another SANADA vs Okada match in this year’s New Japan Cup was daunting to many but that rivalry can now have new life breathed into it through the KOPW 2020.

Credit: NJPW

At its core it is a room to experiment. It gives the roster a chance to show their creativity that may have been restricted within traditional New Japan. It gives NJPW free reign to try something new and get live feedback on what fans do and don’t like via the inclusion of fans voting for the stipulation.

For those who are not fans of the multi man tag matches that fill up the majority of events, rejoice! KOPW 2020 has the chance, like every title does, to give more significance to a match or show. Rather than seeing SHO and Okada take on Yujiro and Gedo again (please stop!), that space could now be taken by a KOPW 2020 defence.

Weight classes are thankfully not a factor, this title is openweight. The New Japan Cup this year was memorable for its large inclusion of junior heavyweights in the field, blessing us with Hiromu vs Okada, Hiromu vs Ishii, El Desperado vs Ishii and SHO vs Shingo Takagi. KOPW 2020 gives the opportunity for the weight classes to get tangled up once again.

Credit: NJPW

The Bad
The prize for being the reigning KOPW 2020 champion at the culmination of the year is a trophy. NJPW has a monopoly on cool and extravagant trophies so it’s exciting to think about what the KOPW trophy will look like. However those other trophies (New Japan Cup, Best of the Super Juniors etc.) come with guarantees of a future title shot whereas KOPW does not. It will be interesting to see if an additional reward is added for KOPW as the year goes on. It has been confirmed that there will be a final defense of the title at the end of the year, so could the crowned KOPW 2020 go on to have an important part at Wrestle Kingdom?

New Japan have garnered a respectable reputation based on their in-ring product, a product that has sparsely used gimmick matches. The contrast in styles across the divisions already give matches their own distinct feel. This introduction of stipulation matches as a staple for an entire title may earn the ire of some purists who enjoy New Japan because it hasn’t necessitated stipulation matches in the past, those who watch New Japan to watch something more grounded and is treated more seriously. New Japan will look to prove that this new title will not have a negative impact on their resolve.

It is anything but traditional NJPW. Stipulation matches have always existed within the promotion but they are seldom used. In June 2016 a match between Kenny Omega vs Michael Elgin was advertised as New Japan’s first ladder match in history (although there previously was a little known one in 2007). The prestige and importance New Japan puts on their titles ensures they are mostly defended in straightforward matches with no stipulations. KOPW 2020 is a very big change from the norm they have cultivated.

Credit: NJPW

At Wrestle Kingdom 13 all NJPW championships were defended but a cluster of them had very little ring time due to the 9 titles being defended on a 10 match card (the three way IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship match lasted less than 7 minutes!). Adding another title may only serve to dig the hole that some believe contains too many titles already.

There are many stipulation matches that would hinder more than they would help if executed incorrectly. The leniency in New Japan mostly allows for the use of chairs and tables during a match which already nullifies the need for a no disqualification match. It’s a very tight rope that NJPW will find themselves walking with this title; gimmick matches for the sake of gimmick matches are universally met with disdain.

A few stipulations have been suggested for matches so far but they leave more to be desired. Okada has suggested a 3 vs 1 handicap match and Yujiro Takahashi has suggested a lumberjacks with belts match. Granted the use of belts is a spin on a match we have seen in the past, it still doesn’t offer much excitement. SHO has suggested a submission match with SANADA, something different for New Japan but not the larger wrestling landscape.

Credit: NJPW

The Yano
It’s a chance for something we haven’t seen before, truly uncharted territory. It’s a chance for fun that can be taken advantage of. Away with the usual match types, let’s see wrestlers make stipulations that benefit themselves!

Toru Yano in a “count-outs only” match. Tomohiro Ishii in a “lariats only” match. Minoru Suzuki in a “who can murder a Young Lion quickest” match. Yoshinobu Kanemaru in a “who can drink the most whisky” match. Satoshi Kojima in a “who can eat the most bread” match. Kota Ibushi and Tetsuya Naito in a “who hates their neck more” match.

El Desperado has seemingly taken the most imaginative approach thus far, initially suggesting a “finishers only match” with Kojima before back tracking and suggesting a “no finishers match” instead.”

By no means should every match be over the top and silly but the roster can make memorable moments and matches without knocking each other’s heads off. Hiromu Takahashi’s meeting with Yano during the New Japan Cup will likely be the most remembered match of the Cup this year for its absurd ending of Yano being bound by tape and thrown into an elevator!

Credit: NJPW

New Japan has a reputation for its strong style but there is constant humour to be found among the entire roster. The G1 Climax gives a lot of the roster one night to play into their comedic side when they are inevitably confronted by Yano and now they might be afforded that opportunity on a vaster scale.

In that same vein the title can be treated entirely seriously. Wrestlers may elect for very stern stipulations such as no rope breaks, submission or knock out only matches. The blank pages are waiting for a new chapter in New Japan history to be written.

New Japan have afforded themselves a reason to take off the constraints and venture into the unknown. Whether it will work or not is a debate for the future. There’s a lot of missing pieces at present and as the weeks and months go by we will be able to get a better look at the completed puzzle.