After a wee break from New Japan (unless you kept up with FantasticaMania) it’s time for The New Beginning, a tour which NJPW has gone all out on this year. They’ve upgraded the final date to Osaka Jo-Hall and are delivering potentially fantastic matches at every destination. Up first was Goto vs Shingo and EVIL vs Ishii, which kind of makes it look like Gedo let me do some booking. He didn’t, but I’m certainly going to enjoy it.
The Bullet Club (El Phantasmo and Taiji Ishimori) defeated Tiger Mask and Yuya Uemura
Our opener was heavy on the shtick. I’ve moaned about Phantasmo enough that I’m not going to bother doing that again, but I wish he wasn’t dragging Ishimori down with him. Tiger, meanwhile, has taken Uemura under his paw which means he spends 98% of the match on the apron before nipping in to hit his signature spots.
Despite those reservations, Uemura continues to impress. He’s got a fiery underdog spirit, throwing himself at opponents and nearly sneaking out with the victory via a series of flash pins. A big part of standing out as a Young Lion is injecting your own personality into the limited move-set, and he’s pulling that off.
Verdict: Three Stars
GBH (Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma) and Toa Henare defeated Manabu Nakanishi, Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Yota Tsuji
We’re on the Nakanishi retirement tour as Chris Charlton pointed out that the only person in the ring to hold a singles pinfall over the big man is Makabe. Honestly, the English commentary team shooting the shit about Nakanishi and his career was probably more interesting than the match, which was a variation of something that we’ve seen a lot and placed the focus on the veterans.
Still, there is always some enjoyment to be had from watching hard old men hit each other and, as you’d expect, Henare and Tsuji brought the effort. Tsuji even got a chance to show off some new tricks, transitioning from being in a Samoan Drop position to a Sunset Flip before twisting that into a Crab. That’s the kind of technical flourish which helps a rookie stands out.
Sadly, it wouldn’t be enough to get the win as Henare fired up and put him away with the Toa Bottom. I feel like I’m a broken record when it comes to him, but fingers crossed this is his year. He’s worked his arse off in these lower card tags for long enough.
Verdict: Two And Three Quarter Stars
Will Ospreay, Ryusuke Taguchi and Roppongi 3k (SHO And YOH) defeated Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr, El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru and DOUKI)
In a move that caught exactly four people off-guard (all of whom were on the babyface team), Suzuki-gun attacked before the bell. They were building to the Junior Tag Title match and Will vs Zack with the focus mainly being on the latter. Sabre went after Will’s neck, twisting it in a way that only Sabre can.
Outside of that, this was your usual Suzuki-gun multi-man. Yes, their bullshit can get a bit annoying, but the matches are never boring, and there is always something happening. Whether it’s DOUKI running wild with a pipe or Roppongi 3K diving to the outside, it’s easy to watch.
Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars
Robbie Eagles and Ryu Lee defeated Los Ingobernables de Japon (Hiromu Takahashi and BUSHI)
Now we’re onto the exciting stuff. Hiromu and Lee might have put their differences aside on January 5th to say farewell to a legend, but the bell rang in this one, and they went straight to chopping the shit out of each other. I love watching them wrestle as they display complete trust that the other will always be where they’re expected to be. Considering Takahashi’s injury and how it came about, you could worry that connection had been dented, but judging by this, Hiromu still has faith in his old enemy.
Sadly, the story of the match wasn’t reflected in the result. Eagles and Lee were teaming for the first time, and you could tell. BUSHI and Hiromu, meanwhile, are a well-polished unit, on the same wavelength and working together like well-seasoned pros. It felt like that was building to LIJ getting the win, but it wasn’t to be.
Instead, Robbie Eagles (who it’s worth remembering has a pinfall over Hiromu) caught BUSHI in the Ron Miller Special while Ryu Lee took flight and wiped Hiromu out. It did give this a slightly disjointed air, but I’m not going to complain too much because we got to watch Lee and Takahashi do their thing. I can’t wait to see them go to war once again.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
The Bullet Club (KENTA and Jay White) defeated Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito and SANADA)
With who was involved, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that this match took a bit to get going. First White and KENTA played their games, and then Naito decided he wanted to get involved, dropping to the outside because he was ‘tired’. It wasn’t until SANADA came in and showed off some of his incredible athleticism that things began to pick up.
From there, we had a few distinct acts in this match. First, Bullet Club went to work, attacking together as KENTA hit a DDT to Naito on the floor before they isolated SANADA. Then, we basically got two mini singles matches. Naito and KENTA were even, but KENTA was focused on the champ’s neck, working it over and maybe gaining a bit of an edge through that. SANADA, meanwhile, struggled with White’s rule-breaking. Whether it was Gedo or a grab of the hair, Jay always had a plan.
In the end, Gedo popping up with a steel chair won Bullet Club the match, as he drove it into SANADA’s skull causing him to fall back into a White roll-up for the three. This perhaps wasn’t a great tag match in the traditional sense, but it was a nice advert for the two upcoming bouts, so in that sense, it did its job.
Verdict: Three Stars
Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki and Taichi) defeated Kazuchika Okada and Jon Moxley
Okada waiting for Moxley at the bottom of the ramp so they could stand side by side, staring into the ring before charging into the fray was fantastic. In one move they showed they were on the same page and are far too smart to walk into Suzuki-gun’s traps.
What followed was a match in which everyone worked their arse off. From the word go, Suzuki and Moxley were beating the shit out of each other, with Mox showing, a perhaps unearned, confidence as he invited MiSu to hit him. They’d eventually end up brawling into the crowd, dueling with barricades. Then, by the end, they were gnawing on each other before Moxley attempted to send MiSu through a table. He was unsuccessful, but I think it’s fair to say this is going to be a violent feud.
With so much of the match given to that battle, Taichi and Okada felt rather secondary. However, what we saw spoke well of that too. Taichi wasn’t presented as being below Kazu, but as someone who could challenge him and while I don’t expect him to get the win, I’m very intrigued to see what the plan for him is.
Murder Grandpa would send the final message, dropping Mox on his head with the Gotch as he showed exactly why he’s challenging for the US Title. As MiSu then stalked to the back, Taichi choked Okada over the barricade with a microphone cable before dragging his limp form into the ring and attempting to drill him with the iron glove. Okada initially fought back, but a ZSJ helping hand meant he ate it all the same. That then brought out Ospreay only for a Zack Driver to put him down. The paper mache glove aside, that was a lot of fun.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
Just when it looked like it was all over, Taichi decided he wanted one more bite of the cherry and dropped Okada with a Black Mephisto on the ramp before locking him in the Stretch Plum. They really wanted Okada to take a beating, didn’t they?
Tomohiro Ishii defeated EVIL
Ishii vs EVIL isn’t a test of skill or power, but one of endurance. These two men were always going to hit each other, nothing could stop that, so the question was how many of those blows they could survive.
And in the past, it’s been EVIL who has struggled. He was 0-8 against Ishii (although that does include his Young Lion matches as Takaaki Watanabe) coming into this match, and he seemed desperate to change that. There was an arrogance to his performance that we don’t often see from him, as he bad-mouthed Ishii and attacked his strapped up knee while dominating the action. It was a weird set-up where for a lot of the match EVIL felt like the better man, but you got the impression Ishii was still in his head.
An idea that brings us back to the question of endurance because if there is one thing Ishii has in spades, it’s that, and if you push him, he only gets more. EVIL was prodding Ishii’s buttons, and that is always a mistake. As this match went on, that bowling-ball-shaped ball of anger just got tougher and tougher, eating chops because he knew it would allow him to hit one of his own, driving his hand into EVIL’s throat. He was a boulder rolling down a hill, picking up momentum as he went.
In the end, EVIL couldn’t kill him. He tried, he tried so damn hard, but Ishii kept coming. The final seconds were a blur of blows, with EVIL coming agonisingly close, but that legendary endurance won the day. As they both staggered back, Ishii recovered quicker, and while EVIL kicked out of the Lariat, he didn’t kick out of the Brainbuster.
Unsurprisingly, I loved that, as Ishii remains the mountain that EVIL can’t climb. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw this match again in 2020, and if that is the case, I’ll be more than happy to keep watching.
Verdict: Four And A Quarter Stars
Shingo Takagi defeated Hirooki Goto to win the NEVER Openweight Title
Goto is an easy wrestler to mock. Christ, you could argue that this match was classic Hirooki as having bested KENTA he walks into the first defence of the belt he claims defines him and loses. However, some credit must be given to New Japan’s warrior because, well, that’s what Goto is. He’s never going to be the guy, but fuck me, does he give them everything.
And the everything he gave them in this match was designed to make Shingo look like a beast. Goto came into this looking lean and powerful before having the exact battle you’d expect these two to have. Every move looked like it could knock someone out and you got the impression that’s exactly what these two hard bastards wanted.
Like Ishii, though, I don’t think people appreciate how great a seller Goto is. So while he’s smacking Shingo around, at one point unleashing a flurry of headbutts that caused Shingo to spit his mouthguard out, he’s also bouncing around, making every Takagi blow look like it’s unleashing death. There was a moment where I was worried Goto was genuinely out as Old Hirooki collapsed when Shingo whipped him across the ring. The look in his eyes screamed stop, and it was only when Shingo leapt off the top rope with him on his shoulders that I was convinced he was probably okay.
For as great as Goto is, Shingo Takagi was always going to be the kind of man who beats him. Whatever it is that makes someone a star, he has it, and when he hoisted Goto up for Last of the Dragon, it made sense. Shingo has taken another step on that ladder, but don’t forget the hard work Goto put in to get him there.
Verdict: Four And A Quarter Stars
Look, I was never going to dislike this show with those two matches on top. It’s everything I want from New Japan condensed into four beefy boys hitting each other. They were fantastic enough that I am happy to largely forget the undercard which was mainly alright to good with the occasional moment creeping towards great. Just keep dishing up my big boys hitting each other, and I’ll be happy.
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