Saturday, February 1st saw New Japan Pro Wrestling hit Sapporo for the first of its ‘New Beginning’ events, with the second following the night after, and the final event taking place in Osaka on February 9th. New Japan Pro Wrestling’s calendar is a little different to other promotions, in that their ‘Superbowl’ as it were, Wrestle Kingdom, takes place in January, settling feuds and big matches that have built up through the year. Apart from the New Year Dash show which follows the night after Wrestle Kingdom, the ‘New Beginning’ shows in February function as the first real events of the new NJPW calendar and often give a hint of what their new wrestling year will look like.
The 2020 editions look to be no exception. While the Osaka show seems to have the card most stacked with big matches, Sapporo had several of its own spread across two days and promised to offer just as much entertainment. So let’s get to the ring and take in all the action!
Taiji Ishimori and El Phantasmo defeated Yuya Uemura and Tiger Mask
It breaks my heart a little to see the ‘Bone Soldier’ and The Phantom reduced to the opening match. They were great as Jr. Heavyweight Tag Champions and worked so well together—Phantasmo as the arrogant, slightly unpredictable asshole and Ishimori as just a tough, versatile motherf*cker. Hopefully a run with the Tag Titles is on their horizon, should GoD decide to step down.
They wrestled an entertaining back and forth match, with the young lion Uemura looking particularly promising as a fiery upstart wanting to make his mark. Keep your eye on Uemura, but for now, victory was not his.
Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, & Toa Henare defeated Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Manabu Nakanishi, & Yota Tsuji
A battle of the old-timers in a way, with the likes of Tenzan, Honma and Makabe appearing, and Nakanishi shortly due to retire. It leant a slowness to the match which, while not marring it, did hold it back a little. Henare looked good and gave a tough, rugged performance. He took the pin and hopefully he’ll continue to develop and improve and become something special.
Zack Sabre Jr., El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, & DOUKI defeated Will Ospreay, Sho, Yoh, & Ryusuke Taguchi
There are just some things you can always rely on in life. The sun always rises. We continue to breathe. And Suzuki-Gun will always start a match with a sneak attack on their opponents.
There was fine action throughout, but the main focus was on Sabre Jr., arguably the best technical wrestler on the planet today, and Ospreay, the aerial assassin, who were set to wrestle the next day in singles competition for the British Heavyweight championship. They took it to the outside where Sabre, rather than brawl, applied a killer armbar, proving he can snap your bones wherever you are.
On this night, though, arm-snapping was no match for bum slamming, as Taguchi pulled out that old favourite, the ‘Bum A Ye’ (arse to the face, in layman’s terms), on DOUKI and as Ospreay held Sabre back from interfering, Taguchi hit the dodon for the 1-2-3.
As Sabre looked to leave, (a tantrum imminent perhaps), Ospreay grabbed his British Heavyweight belt and held it high from the corner, taunting Sabre that his time was up. Can Mr. Ospreay lift the belt on Day 2? We shall see.
Ryu Lee and Robbie Eagles defeated Hiromu Takahashi and BUSHI
The time bomb is about to explode! Takahashi is on a roll at the moment, having snatched the Jr. Heavyweight title from Will Ospreay AND pinning Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger in his retirement match at Wrestle Kingdom. Yet he still has a thorn in his side, and its name is Ryu Lee. Reigniting their previous, ill-tempered feud, both men demonstrated via fast-paced, athletic exchanges that it will not take too much longer before a singles match is signed between the two. And I for one cannot wait to see the limits the two will push to claim the bragging rights over the other.
The other stand out here was Robbie Eagles, who is continuing to prove he is a star in waiting, just needing that big match opportunity to shine. He took the finish here in convincing fashion, forcing BUSHI to tap out to the ‘Ron Miller special.’ Once the company pulls the trigger on Eagles, he will do amazing things.
This was the match of the night up to this point.
KENTA and Jay White defeated Tetsuya Naito and Sanada
At the moment, and in my opinion, KENTA is the greatest heel currently in the business. When he betrayed Ishii to join Bullet Club, the Japanese audience felt like they had been betrayed along with him. They very vocally let KENTA know at each show and where he excels is how he plays up to it, simperingly putting his hand to his ear ala Hulk Hogan in a gesture of great sarcasm. The heat he generates from such simple actions is astounding. Not for him the need to produce a tin of dog food, thank God.
The match itself went a little too long, considering that the action never really accelerated out of first gear. While ostensibly an advertisement for the two singles matches at Osaka—White vs. Sanada, Naito vs. KENTA—it didn’t go out of its way to make me want to check out those matches, even though I will be.
In the end, the usual BC shenanigans ensured, and White took the pin after Gedo cracked Sanada.
Kazuchika Okada and Jon Moxley defeated Taichi and Minoru Suzuki
There is nothing more I want to see now than Moxley vs. Suzuki at Osaka.
Doing what the previous match couldn’t, it made me want to see the matches it was essentially promoting—Okada vs. Taichi and Moxley vs. Suzuki. The sight of Okada and Moxley at the start of the match presenting a unified front and storming the ring in unison was a sight to behold.
Yet it didn’t take long for the match to break down, with Moxley and Suzuki taking into the audience, slapping the living sh*t of each other and swiping each other with chairs. Putting aside Suzuki’s very legitimate MMA credentials, he also belongs very much in the tradition of wild brawlers in Japan, such as the likes of Bruiser Brody, Stan Hansen and Vader. And Moxley, as basically a crazy son of a bitch, is just the right person to match him in the kind of wild brawl to tantalise us old-school brawling fans with a taste for blood.
Interestingly, it was Suzuki who pinned Moxley when he countered the Death Rider with the Gotch-style piledriver. I’d suggest this gives the game away and Mox will get his pin back at Okada, but we shall see.
You might have noticed I’ve focused a lot on Suzuki and Moxley a lot there. Well, the most interesting Okada-Taichi moments happened after the final bell. Taichi choked Okada out in a fit of temper and then hit him with the iron fingers to knock him out. Ospreay comes out for the save, but Sabre Jr. is hot on his tail and hits the Zack Driver to fend off the cavalry. Taichi continued his attack on Okada on the ramp, before pronouncing he would beat Okada again, just like he did when he beat him when Okada was a young lion. I’ve never really taken Taichi seriously, perhaps because I can’t take his opera singer gimmick seriously. But he looked dangerous here and I am suddenly a lot more interested in his match with Okada on Day 2.
Tomohiro Ishii defeated EVIL
This was just a big old hoss fight, plain and simple. The story going into the match was that EVIL was 0-8 against Ishii. The fact that this was highlighted so clearly suggested EVIL would get the win. Not so after a brutal brainbuster laid him out, and you could argue EVIL really does deserve a push towards the NEVER Openweight title and a win over Ishii would have done him good.
Still, it was a great, hard-hitting match as you would expect from these two. I was also intrigued by certain heelish moves EVIL laid out like wrapping a chair around Ishii’s neck outside the ring and hitting it with another chair. It was subtle storytelling, but I like the feeling that EVIL was a man desperate for a win against an undefeatable enemy and would turn to heelish tactics to achieve this.
Where both men go from here will be interesting, but if nothing else, they had a great match.
Shingo Takagi defeated Hirooki Goto to win the NEVER Openweight title
Like the previous match, this was a hard-hitting affair and tied in nicely to the story Shingo had been selling, that the NEVER Openweight title should be the focus for brutal, masculine, competitive conflict. An evenly contested fight, Takagi surprised everybody by countering GTR with the ‘Made in Japan’ and then hitting the ‘Last of the Dragon’ to take the win, the title and his next steps forward in the company. Shingo is a clear star and is over as hell with audiences, so giving him a title where he plies his extremely physical trade is a genius move. Can I suggest EVIL as first contender?
Overall, the first night of ‘New Beginning In Sapporo’ was a very strong evening of wrestling, and if it was setting the final moves in motion for Osaka, then it did so most assuredly.
What surprises would the second night offer for us rabid NJPW fans? Check out my review shortly as we take in all the action from the King of Sports!