You’ve got to give it to Gedo, having Suzuki take the Intercontinental title home with him on night one of the New Beginning has lent proceedings an air of unpredictability. With a new US Champion and Jr. Heavyweight Tag champs in the form of CHAOS’ Jay White & Roppongi 3k over this tour and all five members of Los Ingobernables de Japon in singles competition tonight, what would happen as NJPW had its New Beginning in Osaka.
The Seven Trials Of Kitamura (Match 6): Katusya Kitamura vs Yuji Nagata
This was easily the best of the trial series as Kitamura took on Mr. Blue Justice and at times managed to go toe-to-toe in his striking game with the shoot-style specialist. Nagata, working as closely as he has with the Young Lions, knows exactly their strengths and weaknesses and this match was structured perfectly to play to Kitamura’s strengths as this manages to go above many of the other trial matches as Nagata looked to be the first to take a loss at times during this series. Of course, this being the way things go, even for all Kitamura’s efforts, he would still fall to a pin off the Backdrop Driver. This series is showing that in-ring, Kitamura is there, he just needs to work out who he is apart from a guy with a great physique and a cool mouthguard.
WINNER: Yuji Nagata
Tag-Team Match: Roppongi 3k (SHo & Yoh w/ Rocky Romero) vs Suzuki-Gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado)
Suzuki-Gun attacked before the bell, they worked a slightly more tag-team standard match than their normal shenanigans with Kanemaru not even spitting Tequila at anyone, I know, it’s almost like there’s more than one structure to a tag match. All cynicism aside, this was a lot of fun with 3k still working through the back injuries sustained at the hands of The Young Bucks in their two title matches this year and showing a remarkable aptitude for selling and audience sympathy. The finish came as Desperado took out both members of the other team before locking in a Boston Crab on Sho for the submission. While it seems potentially damaging to have 3k lose their first big match after winning back the titles, this rattled on at a good pace and pens up the field for some new contenders to their titles.
Post-Match: Suzuki-Gun beat down the champions and their manager, Rocky.
8-Man Tag Team Match: Taguchi Japan (Ryusuke Taguchi & KUSHIDA), Michael Elgin & Togi Makabe vs. Suzuki-Gun (Minoru Suzuki, Takashi Lizuka, TAKA Michinoku & Taichi)
For once, it’s Suzuki-Gun who got attacked before the bell, that was about the only real surprise in this match as they worked the standard multi-man ‘everyone gets their stuff in’ style. These matches result in no-one really looking bad but equally no-one looking great. The finish was well-done as Lizuka prepared for hi standard iron glove knockout but Elgin knowing this shtick too well, came in and cut him off as Taguchi and KUSHIDA held back Suzuki who watched as Makabe hit Michinoku with the King Kong Knee Drop for the pin. Fun in a chaotic sort of way. I continue to hope that NJPW will just replace Elgin with Jeff Cobb full-time.
WINNER: Taguchi Japan & Friends
Post-match: Togi Makabe challenged Minoru Suzuki for the Intercontinental title and Suzuki accepted. Makabe tried to attack after but Suzuki no sold it before slapping him about a bit and leaving, taking out a Young Lion as he did for good measure.
6-Man Tag Team Match: CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & Jay White) vs. Taguchi Japan (Juice Robinson & David Finlay) & Henare
Another reasonably standard multi-man tag match but with this one featuring siginificantly more fire in the form of the interactions of White & Finlay and Ishii & Robinson, which is not to say that Yano and Henare didn’t have a lot to offer but these two pairings really stood out and offered a lot, especially with the New Japan Cup coming up, establishing some macro-rivalries going in is clever booking to make even the early rounds matter. The finish came as Jay White hit the Blade Runner on Henare before locking in a grounded hold and elbowing him straight into a victory via ref. stoppage. White’s really adapting to his switchblade character and having him be able to get pinfall victories but choosing to go for ref. stoppage is very effective as a tactic to make him look like a massive bastard especially as he seems to have planted seeds of destruction in Bullet Club, he now seeks to poison their heart of CHAOS.
Post-match: White would lock in his hold again but on the referee, having to be separated. As he left, David Finlay would spit at him before gesturing for him to come get some. Those two really are destined to do this forever.
We get a big announcement via video as El Rey himself, Rey Mysterio jr. appears and challenges Jushin Thunder Liger to a match at Strong Style Evolved, the next NJPW US Event on March 25. Should be good.
Singles Match: Gedo vs BUSHI
It’s always entertaining to see a pair of thieves try to out-trick each other. Gedo came to the ring with his collection of masks stolen from BUSHI, BUSHI would come down to the ramp to get them back but Gedo was prepared and brawled him back to the ring, he tried to claim a third mask but was pulled away, BUSHI came back with hedge-trimmers for Gedo’s beard but when they were taken off him, settled for a sick rope-hung DDT onto the apron. From here, the match settled down into a slightly lackadaisical middle section but it really picked up for its ending stretch with ref bumps, illegal objects and a variety of things that would make Yano proud. Especially effective was when BUSHI, with a mouth full of green-mist, took a palm strike, a low-blow and a SUPERKICK from Gedo for a near-fall to a chorus of boos from the LIJ-friendly crowd. The finish came as Gedo kicked out of a springboard codebreaker so BUSHI took it to the second-rope for the MX and that was that. BUSHI needed the win here but Gedo looked great, especially as with a late-in-the-show call-up to the Heavyweight division, this year’s Best of the Super Juniors has a spot for a conniving bastard opened up…
Singles Match: YOSHI-HASHI vs Tetsuya Naito
This was good, it was always going to be good, it’s Naito, I bet Naito could get a good singles match out of Hangman Page if he wanted to and HASHI is significantly better in the ring than Page but this just felt like everyone knew that HASHI had no chance of scoring an upset, especially as this was clearly the ‘rehab after losing in the WK’12 main event match’, as a result, all the in-ring prowess in the world couldn’t add any drama to this one. HASHI, to his credit, did a lot to play into his new found aggression, attacking Naito on the ramp, even if he didn’t quite adapt aswell as some of his CHAOS team-mates to his status as de-facto heels, he still managed to do enough that even if he couldn’t prove Naito wrong about being able to beat him, he at least did enough to have his attention. The finish came as Naito, fought off HASHI’s attempts to tap him out with a butterfly lock, hit a lovely comeback sequence including a top-rope rana and finished him off with a Destino. Decent stuff but by Naito’s standards, not unmissable.
WINNER: Tetsuya Naito
Post-match: Taichi attacked Naito. Well, I guess he is moving up to the big boys league then.
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship Match: Will Ospreay (c) vs Hiromu Takahashi
Well now, this was just a lot big good. This is a match that has been built to since Takahashi appeared to challenge KUSHIDA after he defeated his team-mate BUSHI, only for Ospreay to knock him out and challenge instead, going on to win the title. Since then, the two have been in numerous tag matches against each other and traded, well, not so much barbs online as just had nice chats. Really though, for two performers whose opening video (which can we talk about how good that was?) was based around footage of cats, they really did try to kill each other.
What was so fantastic about this match was how well-paced it was; this being an Ospreay match there were, of course, plenty of flips and quick-switching spots but it was balanced out with calmer sections as the story of Ospreay taking too much of the match neck-first played out. After a hot first-act, the slower pace allowed Takahashi to take advantage of Ospreay’s weakened neck, grounding the aerial assassin but even then, this never fell into seeming like it was resorting to rest holds, as the English commentary team, this is the kind of match you can’t keep working while you’re in your late thirties but while these two are still young, we should be grateful that we’re getting them.
The finish came after numerous near falls and finish reversals, including Takahashi spectacularly reversing the Oscutter into a cutter of his own when Will had to hit a rope-hung shooting star press, a dynamite press, a grounded back elbow and the Oscutter to finally get the pin. This was how you give someone a loss but elevate them. For too long, NJPW has treated Takahashi like a joke but here, you could see that not only is his offense spectacular but with every kickout, he had this crowd in the palm of his hand, weaving their applause like a genius conductor. Ospreay, still a better athlete than he is actor, continues to improve in his selling of limbs and storytelling and looked every bit the champion here. If the predictions and rumours are to be believed, we could be seeing a rematch of this at Dominion as Takahashi is a favourite to win Best of the Super Juniors this year. I, for one, can’t wait.
WINNER: Will Ospreay
IWGP NEVER Openweight Championship Match: Hirooki Goto (c) vs EVIL
This was, expectedly, a slower match than the previous and while not all matches need to fo at breakneck speed, this felt lacking in comparison to the previous singles matches on the card. It might be that the weird middle-section with chair shots, ref-bumps and EVIL using Goto’s prayer beads as a weapon were not only oddly placed in the match structure but also had no real play in the finish. That said, EVIL and Goto are often two of the more underrated workers of NJPW and while what was here didn’t need to be all of the twenty-plus minutes, it still had a lot to recommend with two big lads who know how to hit people really bloody hard doing just that. The finish came as EVIL kicked out of a headbutt and a draping GTR neckbreaker/elbow combo only for Goto to get him with another GTR in the centre of the ring for a pinfall. While by no means a classic, this still had a good intensity with both men really feeling like there was more than just the title in their sights here. Where Goto goes from here, I don’t know as no obvious challengers presented themselves but if I had to fan-book, Juice Robinson deserves a nice singles title I’d say.
WINNER: Hirooki Goto
IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs SANADA
There are never enough words to describe how great Okada is, he is genuinely cementing a legacy here as not just one of the best of his era but as someone who we can consider that years from now, will be thought of as one of the best of all time, that is, assuming anyone can ever actually take that title from him.
This was significantly more suspenseful than anyone might have thought it would be as Okada acted like there was no chance that SANADA could take his title but it was at this event that he dethroned Tanahashi after a 400+ day reign to win his first IWGP Heavyweight title, at a time when no-one thought he would so there was that inkling of doubt in the audience, and SANADA exploited that. Early on, they played to a relatively quiet room, possibly down to fatigue, possibly down to the more muted early goings but then, it was around the fifteen minute mark, SANADA hit a double leapfrog, dropkicked Okada out of the ring and landed a pair of planchas, the crowd erupted, suddenly they realised, SANADA was a contender.
From here on, for seventeen suspenseful minutes, it was back-and-forth as both men put everything out there, playing off their respective finishes, that being Okada’s Rainmaker ripcord lariat and SANADA’s Skull End dragon sleeper but also his use of it as set up for his Great Muta-esque Moonsault with a succession of great moments making the crowd explode, especially when they hit each other’s finishers and extra especially when SANADA hit the Rainmaker. Towards the end of the match, it kept looking like Okada was going to pass out in the Skull End but through sheer willpower, he managed to escape. The actual finish itself was a hot sequence as SANADA hit a moonsault but his knee buckled preventing a proper cover, he went for a second moonsault but Okada got the knees up, hit two Rainmakers, went for a third, SANADA escaped, went for a Skull End but Okada hit a German suplex, went for the third Rainmaker, SANADA escaped again went for another Skull End but got turned into a jumping tombstone and then Okada hit that third and final Rainmaker for the pin. Even with the slightly less-than smooth opening sections, this developed into a great match with the crowd really buying into SANADA’s ability to possibly pull off the impossible helping elevate it. So who is actually capable of stopping Okada? I don’t know but whoever they are, the response when they do it might just blow everything else away.
WINNER: Kazuchika Okada
Post-match: Okada got on the mic, he thanked the fans, declared his intentions to go against tradition and enter the New Japan Cup and challenged Jr. Heavyweight champion (and CHAOS team-mate) Will Ospreay to a match at the New Japan Anniversary show on 6th March.
With 6 out of 9 matches here being singles encounters, this flowed a lot better than the endless tag cards that often accompany the typical New Japan show, this was a very entertaining show overall with no real bad matches and some absolutely superb ones for the Junior and Heavyweight titles. Go watch them. Seriously, do.
RESULTS & WINNERS:
* The Seven Trials of Kitamura Singles Match: Michael Elgin def. Katusya Kitamura
* Tag-Team Match: Suzuki-Gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado) def. Roppongi 3k (Sho & Yoh w/ Rocky Romero)
* 8-Man Tag Team Match: Taguchi Japan (Ryusuke Taguchi & KUSHIDA), Michael Elgin & Togi Makabe def. Suzuki-Gun (Minoru Suzuki, Takashi Lizuka, TAKA Michinoku & Taichi)
* 6-Man Tag Team Match: CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano & Jay White) def. Taguchi Japan (Juice Robinson & David Finlay) & Toa Henare
* Singles Match: BUSHI def. Gedo
* Singles Match: Tetusya Naito def. YOSHI-HASHI
* IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship Match: Will Ospreay def. Hiromu Takahashi
* IWGP NEVER Openweight Championship Match: Hirooki Goto def. EVIL
* IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match: Kazuchika Okada def. SANADA