NJPW New Beginning in Osaka
February 11 2019
We’re in the Edion Arena for a big, big New Japan show. Important decisions are afoot. Hosts are Kevin Kelly and Don Callis
Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Takashi Iizuka & TAKA Michinoku) vs. TenKoji & Jushin Liger
Everyone is getting all teary eyed and sentimental about the impending retirement of Iizuka and I can’t get passed the feeling that I’ve been calling for him to quit for years. There’s nothing in his performance here that suggests his retirement match is going to be some four star extravaganza either. Those days are gone. Surrounded by fellow old timers even Suzuki looks out of sorts here. All these guys could use a younger opponent to fire them up. The only really interesting interaction is Suzuki beating the piss out of Liger, suggesting there’s maybe a chance they could work a singles match at some point? I’d prefer Suzuki working the younger generation. And Liger for that matter. I feel like this is basically a waste of everyone involved and Gedo probably knows it, the disrespectful old beardy tit. Scratch that; the best part of this match is Suzuki cutting off Kojima’s taunts to mess with him. I would pay good money to watch those two kill each other in a G1-esque bout. Tenzan has a bash at getting me into the storyline by standing over Iizuka and shouting “remember when we were friends”. Iizuka then stops Suzuki from hitting Tenzan with a chair and there’s a wonderful moment from Tenzan where he’s really happy and then Iizuka hits him square in the jaw with the chair. Madness.
Final Rating: **3/4
On the bright side Tenzan, in ten days he’ll be gone.
EVIL & SANADA vs. Ayato Yoshida & Shota Umino
I am having many technical issues with the laptop. 1. It won’t let me sign into World at all on Chrome so I’m having to use Internet Explorer (urgh). Secondly it won’t let me open the match I want to see in a new window because it sends me to the login screen. Now thirdly there’s no sound. Seeing as it took me ten minutes to get from match one to match two I’m not in the mood to reload everything to see if that fixes it. So I watched this in silence. Like a deaf man watching an execution. Two plucky youngsters being sent out to die at the hands of Los Ingobernables de Japon. Both tag champs are pretty casual. Or as casual as you can get while sporting the kind of beard usually reserved for religious gurus, rappers and commune leaders. Yoshida gets properly fired up and tries to kick EVIL to death, which gets him about as far as you’d expect. I don’t really know what to expect from Yoshida, who’s essentially here on loan from K-Dojo. Is he a big deal? Will he be? Certainly Umino is a guy they have high hopes for but he’s unlikely to go on excursion just yet. I do like that he’s getting to mix it up with higher card talent. As if New Japan has taken a different approach to their young lions. There’s probably no better place to learn than in New Japan itself. He certainly looks good in defeat here.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Taichi, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado vs. Tetsuya Naito, BUSHI & Shingo Takagi
Taichi feels like a brief distraction for Naito so he can do something outside of the big belt and maybe make the IC title mean something again. He has also said he wants to hold both big singles straps. Having to watch Taichi, a man of very limited abilities, competing in this company of big match wrestlers has always been odd but having him be pushed in the company? That’s bizarre beyond my comprehension. I feel like he’s borderline unwatchable. Kanemaru also stinks so we’re expecting a lot from Despy here and he’s not that kind of worker. I don’t get Naito vs. Taichi. They have next to zero chemistry. They’re on completely different levels in the promotion. Why are they feuding? Shingo is the absolute star of this match, although it’s easy for him to be that. When he’s in there we get increased urgency and excitement. The rest of the match is frankly dull. Destino puts Kanemaru away. Meh.
Final Rating: **
Tomoaki Honma & YOSHI-HASHI vs. Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens
The word skippable was pretty much invented for combinations of talent like this. Don’t get me wrong on their day both Honma and Owens are very good but they don’t suit each other as opponents and the other two are passengers. Yujiro and Tacos are the proof that New Japan’s dojo doesn’t have that miraculous 100% hit rate but also that Gedo is loyal to his guys regardless of how good they are in the ring. Chase is the kind of heel that should be studied. Here he nails the ref distraction. Complains of a hair pull and then punches Honma in the face while the ref is checking. Why is this so hard for other wrestlers to understand? Honma is still a bit rusty but fuck me, it’s nothing on YOSHI-HASHI who is absolutely dreadful in this match. Watching him and Yujiro do ‘counter wrestling’ is painful. It gets spritely down the stretch but that might just be because the rest of the match is so laborious. Big Chase puts Honma down with the Package Piledriver and the series of spots where they try to break Honma’s neck towards the finish were tremendously sick. This was a match of contrasts. It got good but most of it sucked.
Final Rating: **1/4
Promo Time: Kota Ibushi
With Kenny Omega on his way to AEW and all of the other guys Kota was buddying around with gone too it begs the question; what’s Ibushi doing? It turns out he’s staying and has signed a two year deal to remain in New Japan. There are people in tears at Kota staying and when he announces he’ll be in the New Japan Cup there are more!
Guerrillas of Destiny vs. Togi Makabe & Toru Yano
Mid life crisis Jado is ringside for the GOD dudes. I cannot express how thrilled I’m not at this turn of events. This had potential to be good fun as Yano is deathly afraid of Tama for reasons I don’t truly understand. Instead GOD double down on the heel nature of their team, which is Tama at his absolute worst. When he’s just wrestling and not thinking about character he’s good. When he’s being a heel I can barely watch him. When Makabe just running through his shit is the highlight of a match it’s not a good match. Yano runs through his shtick shortly afterwards and again it’s easily more engaging than the heel work of GOD. As if the match isn’t bad enough they work in a ref bump. Gun Stun puts Yano away. Utter shit. GOD are probably the most frustrating act in wrestling. Capable enough but they never deliver.
Final Rating: *
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Taiji Ishimori (c) vs. Ryusuke Taguchi
NJPW’s junior division has been ravaged of late. Ospreay has stepped up to heavy, KUSHIDA is gone and Hiromu is injured. Taguchi, loveable goofball, tends to step up in the big matches. He’s still daft as a brush, failing to escape a wristlock by rolling into it, but the difference in attitude is there. I like Taguchi trying to piss Ishimori off by mocking his former persona only for Ishimori to just applaud it and then bust out his own dance (“Almost a triple johnny” – Callis). Ishimori’s explosive offence is a major highlight but he tries to keep that largely under wraps to maintain his heel status. A lot of what he does is so effortless that he can get away with it. Taguchi brings the heart but neither bring the necessary storytelling to take the match to another level. Taguchi wants to work the ankle but Ishimori doesn’t appear willing to take his selling beyond yelling in pain while in holds. The focus being the ankle, rather than the knee, allows for a little more freedom I guess. If his knee was worked over the Bloody Cross would be a bad idea for example. Or the Wrecking Ball Knees. But having a bum ankle should slow Ishimori down and it does not. Ishimori counters into his finish and the match ends abruptly. Decent match although my past experiences with both men suggested this would be more of a showstealer.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Kazuchika Okada vs. Bad Luck Fale
Again? They have a 3-3 singles record so I guess we need a decider. Okada’s losses have been mainly of convenience. When they needed him to job to someone in G1. Fale is a nice guy to have around because he beat just about anyone on his day. However New Japan have made a habit of turning him into short-term feuds to fill space. It means Okada gets to be out here second top and registering a “big win”. Chase Owens is the best worker in this match. His sneaky attacks at ringside and abusing of the Rainmaker are essential to my enjoyment. Otherwise we’d just be looking at the same old, same old bout. Okada does a reasonable job of putting over Fale’s size, the backdrop is incredible, and selling for the big man. He needs to. They need to create the illusion that Okada, back in short shorts here, is more vulnerable than usual. The performance from Fale is a little ponderous and lacking in energy. Chase working harder outside the ring. Then they work in a horrible ref bump with Okada accidentally forearming Red Shoes. YOSHI-HASHI makes the save, without falling on his face. After the bullshit the match improves slightly as they need to finish hot. Fale tries to clubber Okada to death but gets caught with the Rainmaker and that’s it. This was all over the place. A grind for ten minutes, followed by some nonsense and then about three minutes of good shit at the finish.
Final Rating: **3/4
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Jay White
Tanahashi, now an eight time champion, faces off against the young upstart Jay White. The man who has the backing of Gedo, which traditionally has been good news for Okada. Jay’s recent track record has been stunning. Lots of high profile scalps in G1, Tanahashi included, a win over Okada at WK and tapping out Tanahashi recently with the “TTO: Tanahashi Tapped Out”. There is a heavy reference here to Okada’s “Rainmaker Shock” victory in Osaka back in 2012. When the Okada Era began. There are parallels with Jay’s rise here. Tanahashi comes into this with a bad leg so that’s an obvious target for Jay. One he created himself but is an ongoing problem. Tanahashi is falling apart so you could pretty much target any part of him. They tell a good story of how broken down Tanahashi is. The idea being that it’s not a shock that Tanahashi won the title but due to his deteriorated body he’s vulnerable and White is first in line. They tell a story here of White being well prepared and being one move ahead of Tanahashi all the way through. Using the injuries of Tanahashi to out maneouvre him. Not just working the leg for the sake of a submission but keeping Tanahashi deliberately unbalanced. Tanahashi’s one major flaw is his reliance on leg work. Which turns this into leg vs. leg, which I could have lived without. The story works far better when Tanahashi has a very clear cut disadvantage as I need that to believe in a Jay White victory. Jay makes for an effective heel here because he displays actual cowardice, which is a rarity in Japan. It makes him stand out. As with many NJPW mains this drags out a little beyond the logical finish point. Tana taking a massive succession of moves around the 20-25 minute mark. Everything after that sees Tanahashi injure his own body in trying to retain. The work had been done by Switchblade to make it a virtual certainty that Tanahashi was dropping the strap. I’m pleased they don’t go the predictable route of a submission, instead having Tana struggle to climb the ropes and getting caught coming off with the Bladerunner.
Final Rating: ****
I can see people not being happy with the outcome here. White is not your conventional wrestler under the Switchblade character. He’s a clever, manipulative coward. You don’t get wrestlers like that and he’s carved himself a niche. Now he’s the 68th IWGP champ. Rumour has it that White is slotting into Omega’s spot as to not overly disrupt booking leading into the show in America over Mania weekend. The undercard is almost entirely skippable with a decent Ishimori/Taguchi match being a rare highlight.