After an exciting two day build-up the previous weekend in Sapporo, New Japan Pro Wrestling brought their ‘New Beginning’ series of shows to a close on February 9th in Osaka. With a gripping show that settled some existing feuds, continued others and introduced some intriguing new matches moving forward into 2020. A new beginning indeed, then! What went down between some of wrestling’s best in Osaka? Let’s head down to the ring and take in the action!
Manabu Nakanishi, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, & Yuji Nagata defeated Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Toa Henare, & Ryusuke Taguchi
A fun little match to get us started, as Manabu Nakanishi’s retirement trail is beginning to wind down as we head to his retirement event and final match on February 22nd. It was a battle of mainly veterans, with only Toa Henare being a relative newcomer to the squared circle. Nakanishi looked to be having a blast out there as he battered his opponents with open hand strikes and stiff clotheslines. Henare, (after being so impressive in Sapporo), didn’t make much impact here, falling foul of Nagata’s ‘Nagata Lock II’ early on in the match. It might have been more worthwhile to have put Henare in a singles match to keep his momentum going, but them’s the breaks. Kojima finished matters off, slicing Honma with a brutal lariat for the pin.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions Sho & Yoh defeated El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru
This was an excellent exhibition of storytelling in the ring, and mostly followed classical tag team rules, which bolstered things greatly. The story being told was of SHO and his hurt knee, injured by Desperado and Kanemuru in a match earlier in the week. The challengers were well aware of the injury and headed into the match smelling blood.
The challengers isolated SHO for the majority, forcing him into the Ricky Morton face-in-peril spot, and hurting YOH where possible so that he would not be available for the hot tag. SHO sold the knee very well and even failed to nail a powerbomb later on due to the knee not being up to the task.
Eventually, though, YOH got the hot tag, and he and SHO used their impressive double-team arsenal to put Desperado away with ‘Strong X’ to retain the titles.
Desperado got in YOH’s face after, but it was Ryuske Taguchi, SHO and YOH’s coach while Rocky Romero had been in the USA, who surprised everybody. He boldly made his way into the ring and playfully encouraged Rocky to tag with him to challenge SHO and YOH for the Jr. Tag Titles in the future! Even more surprising was that Rocky accepted! SHO and YOH, while a little put out by the friendly challenge, acquiesced and agreed to the match. This will be worth keeping your eye on.
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, Juice Robinson, & David Finlay defeated Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa, Yujiro Takahashi, & Chase Owens
The focus was on the tag titles once again, as the Guerillas of Destiny, newly crowned champions after sneaking the belts away from FinJuice at the end of the American tour, teamed with Bullet Club stablemates Owens and Takahashi to face two teams who both want to be the first team to challenge the new champions.
It’s interesting that Ibushi has been pushed in this direction after main eventing the first night of this year’s Wrestle Kingdom. However, the partnership with Tanahashi is promising and gives Kota at least a belt to focus on before the G1, which I suspect he’ll win and go on to take the big one at next year’s Wrestle Kingdom in a redemption arc. At least I hope that’s the plan.
This was a fun little match with GoD looking powerful, Ibushi having some sharp exchanges with the always reliable Chase, and Tanahashi looking like he was genuinely having a good time out there. The finish came with Tanahashi absorbing a cane strike from Jedo to cradle Loa for the 1-2-3. Afterwards, Ibushi and Tana entered into a (semi)friendly debate with FinJuice as to who will challenge GoD first for the titles. I think this one will come to blows before those challengers are determined.
Kazuchika Okada & Will Ospreay defeated Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr
Here we saw the furthering of two feuds played out in Sapporo, with both Taichi and Okada, and Ospreary and Zack, having contested sterling singles contests against each other. Here, the focus was on Taichi’s ongoing mission to prove himself worthy of having the same kind of success Okada has had, as well as Zack’s rematch with Ospreay coming up shortly on February 14th at RevPro’s ‘High Stakes’ show in London.
This was a really good match, with Zack’s disdain for Ospreay leading into some great heated exchanges between the two. Their match on the 14th is going to be incredible. Taichi, meanwhile, continued showing great fire and determination by relentlessly attacking Okada, hitting him with big moves and choking him on the outside with wires.
In the end, Okada took the win with the ‘Rainmaker.’ Where his conflict with Taichi goes now; I don’t know. Will we see Okada put Taichi over, the Rainmaker becoming the Starmaker? It remains to be seen, but based on Taichi’s performances over the New Beginning shows; he deserves the rub.
Jay White defeated SANANDA
I would argue, even though this was a good match, with a very strong finishing series of exchanges, this was possibly one of the less entertaining matches of the evening. But why? Surely a match with two solid guys like ‘The Switchblade’ and SANADA should be a guaranteed cracker?
Here’s where my problem lies, and it revolves around two things that have been consistent around Jay White since joining Bullet Club, both taking away from the quality of his star power and the quality of his matches. The first is the interference of Gedo. Yes, I get it. The BC are heels. Managers have interfered in matches since the year dot. I get it, I do. The problem lies in the fact that the level of Gedo’s interference often overtakes the match itself. In this match alone, anytime SANADA went near the ropes, it seemed like Gedo just had to get involved.
Interference in a match works if done well and the balance is right with the action of the match. The balance wasn’t right here, and it took away from the match a little. Not only that but as the leader of BC, White needs to look dominant, like he’s completely dangerous on his own terms in the ring. The constant interference of Gedo doesn’t protect White; it diminishes him instead.
Meanwhile, I’ve noticed a tendency in White matches now where as soon as he is on the offence the pace of the match slows dramatically. Now, I’m not against slow matches or a methodical pace at all. I don’t need everything to be executed at 100mph. But White’s offence here wasn’t methodical, he was grinding it out, to the detriment of the match. When White was countering SANADA’S offence, he looked great, sharp. But when left to his own devices, it was a slow, slow grind to watch.
Luckily, SANADA was on his game and the closing stretch of back and forth counters was exciting and more emblematic of the kind of match I thought they would have had. White hit the ‘Blade Runner,’ for the win, looking all the stronger for it, and proving not everything needs to involve a Gedo intervention.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takahashi defeated Ryu Lee
If you told me beforehand that there was a match on the card that could out-crazy Moxley/Suzuki, I probably would have laughed. But I hadn’t taken into account the history of these two gentlemen and their desire to basically die in the ring together in each other’s arms.
There is something of a Spaghetti Western scenario to these two: two lone gunmen who can’t rest until their nemesis is obliterated. With that in mind, the fact that their latest showdown began with the two slapping the shit out of each other’s chests for over five minutes gave one the feeling of watching guns being drawn at high noon.
Where do you go from there? Well, if you’re Lee, you sit Takahashi on the crowd barricade and hit with the sickest suicide dive you’ve ever seen, a mere miracle that neither man didn’t cave their skulls in.
Lee showed his desperation by going for the ‘Dragon Driver,’ the move that put Takahashi on the shelve previously, and he went for it, not once, but twice. That Takahashi was able to counter it each time just showed how dangerous the move was, and the audible sigh of relief from the audience as the move was countered was something to behold.
Takahashi finally ended the insanity with a ‘Time bomb,’ possibly ending the Takahashi-Lee feud for now. Possibly? As Lee was being carried from the ring, Takahashi leant out between the ropes and said to him “one more time!” It looks like this awesome feud is going to continue until there’s only one man standing and the other is six feet under the ground!
IWGP U.S. Champion Jon Moxley defeated Minoru Suzuki
This was the one I was looking forward to the most and it didn’t disappoint.
However crazy Jon Moxley is, he is not Minoru Suzuki. The man is terrifying unhinged, and I mean that as a compliment! For example, who gets struck with a chair that the seat explodes and lies on the mat after smiling as if he enjoyed it? Who takes a solid forearm to the face and proceeds to laughingly mimic his opponent’s swagger? Who asks to be hit, as much for the actual pain as the bragging rights? The former ‘King of Pancrase,’ that’s who!
Mox looked good as the tough as hell brawler finding himself against a genuinely unhinged warrior and finding himself overmatched for the first time, only to overcome the odds. Such odds included having his hand trapped in a steel chair and having said chair smashed with another steel chair.
For sure, this one was wild, with Suzuki going through a table, chairs being swung and vicious strikes aplenty. It was not quite the Bruiser Brody match I was expecting, but then it shouldn’t be. Brody was great, but this is 2020, and Moxley and Suzuki worked their own unhinged brand of violence, giving the audience a modern take on the wild gaijin brawls of the past and, more importantly, a match unlike any other on the card, giving the crowd a real sense of diversity.
In the end, Moxley sealed Suzuki’s fate with a lariat and the ‘Death Rider.’ As Suzuki took out his frustrations on the guard rails outside, Zack Sabre Jr. ran in from out of nowhere and slapped a choke onto Moxley dragging him to the ground. He then proceeded to pose with the U.S. title, laughing over Moxley’s limp frame. I don’t know what’s going to go down in London, but in Japan a Zack-Moxley match-up is a very unexpected and very exciting prospect indeed.
IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champion Tetsuya Naito defeated KENTA
KENTA might just be the best heel in the business currently, MJF notwithstanding. The heat he gets from the crowd, just from simple gestures as witheringly cupping his hand to his ear as he’s booed, is intense. Here he upset the crowd by refusing to engage with Naito, slipping out of the ring every time Naito went to lock up and taunting the audience at ringside. When Naito did get his hands on KENTA, he dragged Naito to the outside, throwing him methodically and deliberately into the crowd barricades and stomping on a fan’s Naito teddy to hammer the point home. Such old-school heeling, done this well, needs applauding.
Earlier in the match, the Bullet Club literally transformed into its forefathers, the NWO, by all coming to the ring and intimidating Naito by their presence. Unfortunately, they got a little heavy-handed with refereed Red Shoes and pushed him to the mat, leading him to respond by throwing them out of ringside for the match. Unlike a Jay White match, this would be thought one-on-one, and the match was all the better for it.
As the match progressed, KENTA picked up the pace and Naito followed. KENTA hit a series of hard kicks and strikes but could not hit the ‘Go To Sleep.’ Naito managed to hit big comebacks but could not capitalise. Near the end, KENTA sent Naito into a corner where he had removed the turnbuckle earlier, and Naito smashed his face into the top metal buckle, cutting himself up pretty badly, the juice adding fission to the match’s conclusion.
Ultimately, it was not to be KENTA’s night, as Naito was able to hit the ‘Destino’ to retain his Heavyweight and Intercontinental titles. KENTA slunk off without word or gesture, his tail between his legs, but I get the feeling this isn’t the last Naito has seen of him.
Looking to the future, Naito addressed the crowd and alluded to a tradition for the upcoming NJPW show, where the Heavyweight champion usually wrestles the Jr. Heavyweight champion. The problem is, Hiromu Takahashi is a member of Los ingobernables de Japon alongside Naito. Still, things seem amicable. Or do they? Takahashi came to the ring and agreed to the match, and the two men fist-bumped. But there was just a glint in Naito’s eye as Takahashi touched his title belts, betraying an uncomfortableness with Takahashi, and maybe a feeling that he feels superior to him.
Whatever the case may be, the ‘New Beginning in Osaka’ was an excellent show that set up the NJPW year very well indeed. I can’t wait to see what’s next.