NJPW New Beginning in Osaka
February 10 2018
We’re in Osaka, as the title suggests. This is the final of three New Beginning shows, with Gedo stretching out that Yen as much as possible. I look forward to the 45 G-1 Climax shows over three months.
Katsuya Kitamura vs. Yuji Nagata
This is match six of Kitamura’s trial series. He’s clearly ready to step up if New Japan want him to. Rumour has it he’ll be off on excursion soon. Kitamura wants to go to America. Nagata knows a thing or two about America. Kitamura shows good fire here, not looking out of place at all duelling with Nagata. I’d love to see him in G1 this year. I think he’d kill it. He shows good strength here too, powering Nagata over on a gutwrench suplex.
Nagata getting in his face with the slaps is fucking amazing. How incredible must it be to slap Nagata across the chops and have him scream “again, harder” at you? Kitamura shows improved psychology; drawing Nagata in for a spot by taking kicks. Kitamura gets to take quite a bit; surviving the armbar (two variations thereof) and showing how ‘tough’ he is now. Nagata puts Kitamura away with the Backdrop Hold but every time he’s out there Kitamura is getting closer and closer to being the genuine competitive article in NJPW. He’s close.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado vs. Roppongi 3K
Suzuki-gun’s sleazebags are taking aim at the IWGP Junior belts here, although this is a non-title contest. The idea being when they score the win, they get a title shot later. That’s ‘if’ they win, of course. SHO comes into this with a back injury, sustained as part of the strenuous victory over the, also injured, Young Bucks. The trouble with having to rely on YO is that he’s only just recovered from the flu. SHO does an excellent job of selling that back. Unable to do certain moves and unable to hold bridges. It’s a good little story. Especially as Kanemaru & Despy aren’t really good enough to win the belts but the injury gives them an opening. The heels do a good job of positioning idiot Romero, distracting the ref while Despy uses a chair, and SHO has to tap out to a Liontamer.
This was a great little storyline; with the injury coming in and being such a big important part of the match. I love it when injuries actually mean something and aren’t just filler.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Togi Makabe, Michael Elgin, KUSHIDA & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Takashi Iizuka, Taichi & TAKA Michinoku)
Makabe is next in line for Suzuki, after Minoru won the IWGP IC title from Tanahashi, who is off this tour due to injuries sustained in that match. Suzuki is on his way to having an all-time great year if they can stop his faction ruining half his matches. This one is a total throwaway. Lots of brawling, more cheating. Elgin is the star, throwing everyone around and generally looking like he means business every time he’s in the ring. He’s become the forgotten man in New Japan. Underwhelming booking, an International audience that went cold on him because of the ‘Mo saga’ and yet he keeps having big performances whenever he’s asked. The best sequences of the match involve Suzuki, which is not a shock. I’m not too excited for his defence against Makabe but they do a decent job of hyping it here by beating the shit out of each other. Togi lariats TAKA for the win. This started horribly and gradually improved. KUSHIDA did nothing here. Taguchi was barely involved. Too much bullshit but that’s part of parcel of Suzuki-gun.
I love everything about this. pic.twitter.com/1ghXYin0Sc
— Arn~! (@ArnoldFurious) February 11, 2018
Final Rating: *1/2
Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & Jay White vs. Juice Robinson. David Finlay & Toa Henare
CHAOS have been, sort of, criticised for hiring Jay White but he’s done more damage to Bullet Club in one match than they did in three years. Henare has decided to target Ishii. I would not be opposed to a singles match. You have to test yourself against the best. This is short but sweet with Jay killing Henare with the Bladerunner and then elbowing the unconscious Kiwi until a ref stoppage finishes it. Jay is certainly giving CHAOS a sadistic edge. Whether the other CHAOS members agree with it is another thing entirely. They both walk off while Switchblade is still taunting the opponents. Does anyone else really hope that Finlay turns heel to team with him? There’s definitely a long term storyline at play there.
Final Rating: **1/2
Video Control gives us Rey Mysterio Jr, who’s coming to New Japan (“for the first time ever”) to challenge Jushin Liger.
I thought he worked a J Cup, and he did, but it was the one hosted by WAR. Wasn’t a tournament match but he wrestled Psicosis in a little ten-minute lucha banger. He’ll be at Strong Style Evolved. Liger is ringside so he responses on the Japanese commentary.
BUSHI vs. Gedo
This is part of the LIJ vs. CHAOS series that this show is built around. BUSHI has both an outlandish as fuck mask and hedge clippers, to sort of Gedo’s unruly facial hair. I can’t take Gedo seriously and I don’t think he does either. Despite this Gedo tries to make the match about the mask vs. beard motif.
Lucha de apuestas forthcoming, surely? Mask vs. (Beard) Hair. They play up the weaknesses nicely. Gedo tying BUSHI’s mask to the ropes is clever. There is an awful ref bump where BUSHI lands on Asami’s leg. Gedo takes advantage of this to punch BUSHI square in the balls. The level of cheating is pleasing but it never feels important and it’s positioned way up the card. Gedo eats an MX and LIJ go 1-0 on the series.
Final Rating: **3/4
Tetsuya Naito vs. YOSHI-HASHI
This is a total mismatch. Tacos is a perennial midcarder who has no shot at beating anyone at the top end. Naito is one of the biggest stars in Japan. Y-H constantly keeps having these spells where he ‘fires up’ and looks like a contender and then, sometimes in the same match, looks like a total nobody. Naito has little interest in YOSHI-HASHI, with good reason, although the match is technically sound. Tacos does a few nice counters, including leaping over the Naito’s legsweeps from the apron.
YOSHI-HASHI is very adept at taking bumps and making Naito look good, as if he needs help. He struggles at making himself look good. It’s in pulling out some big counters that Tacos looks the part, able to compete with a superstar like Naito. The trouble with Naito is his character is so…tranquillo, that he doesn’t seem to care all that much about winning. It’s a tough sell on me that Naito would give a shit if he accidentally lost to YOSHI-HASHI. Tacos runs through all his big moves, some connecting, some not, and Naito casually survives it all. Destino x2 finishes. This was fine. The wrestling worked but I never bought into YOSHI-HASHI being a threat, which is an issue the main event will certainly face later.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Post Match: Taichi sneak attacks a celebrating Naito. Jesus Christ, NJPW, throw Naito a friggin bone here! Taichi! Fuck’s sake. It’s blatantly ‘let’s keep Naito busy’.
I guess Ospreay is up next? The press conference where Hiromu heard Will liked chicken and made him some is golden btw. Beautiful stuff.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Will Ospreay (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi
This is Hiromu’s first singles match title shot since losing his belt last summer to KUSHIDA. At the time it felt like Hiromu had taken over the division, replacing KUSHIDA as the junior ace. Losing to KUSHIDA was almost a backwards step for the division. However the end game was Ospreay taking over and having his junior run.
This starts fast and crazy. Ospreay taking a sickening release German suplex on the floor. Mate, please don’t ruin your neck. You only get one. The focus of Hiromu is the neck, which is bad news for Will’s long-term health but a sensible path for the match. It allows Will to still hit all his crazy gymnastics without the injury overwhelming the content of the match, although it’s nice that Will still pays tribute to that injury by selling whenever he does something that jars it. Will’s little apron dodge spot is modified here, showing he’s not just a series of tricks but that he’s thinking about the logic of how to apply his ridiculous abilities. Tim Thatcher asked this; “when the sensational becomes the norm, where do you go from there?” Ospreay knows where; to take all his sensational moves and weave a logical Thatcher-esque match structure with them. Everything makes sense and there’s rarely gymnastics for the sake of it. Due to the difficulty of everything that’s going on it requires a lot of pre-planning but I’ll take a beautifully planned, beautifully executed match any day of the week. Will takes Hiromu’s absolutely sickening sunset bomb to the floor and lands on his neck. Will, you crazy bastard, you don’t have to take those bumps! It’s the weirdest part of the match too because they go from that, right into the finish, and Will kicks out. That was Hiromu hitting all his most deadly offence and the result is just a kick-out. They have a slightly rough, but totally insane, spot where Hiromu gets caught up top and Will tries to suplex him off the top rope into the buckles while sliding off himself. It’s so, so hard. Much is the Imploding 450 but Ospreay does that so effortlessly. They throw in a great spot where Ospreay goes for the Oscutter but Hiromu takes him down with a neckbreaker, taking us back to the logical neck storyline. What I love about this match is that Will is losing at his own game, so he switches gears and comes after Hiromu with the hard-hitting strikes. What he doesn’t realise is that Hiromu is no slouch in that department and it turns into a war that Ospreay isn’t ready for. Before too long they’re throwing big bombs and the ridiculous counters to those are sick. Both guys take huge head drops (Poison rana off the top for Hiromu and Will takes a mid-move counter into the Destroyer). Is it a little too much? Perhaps but juniors can get away with more due to their lighter weights. There is less weight landing so less impact. Hiromu has another great counter, catching another Oscutter into a German suplex. He’s done his homework. Will can’t quite land the Decapitator elbow, which is a pity because when he does land that it’s sensational, and the Oscutter finishes. The trouble with the finish coming off a little flat is it was preceded by so many awesome spots. Tack on a better conclusion and this was pushing MOTYC territory. Ospreay has been incredible so far in 2018. He’s putting together a genuine Wrestler of Year run.
Final Rating: ****1/2
NEVER Openweight Championship
Hirooki Goto (c) vs. EVIL
The crowd seem to care significantly less about this than the preceding match. They start a lot slower and it’s a difficult spot. Especially for EVIL, having to work with a registered Choke Artist. Hirooki, you’re in the semi-main! Sweet, I’ll go and have the standard ***1/4 match then. In fairness he was brilliant at WK against Suzuki but the way Suzuki has been wrestling so far this year that’s not that impressive. EVIL makes a point of being, well, evil. He uses chairs a lot and tries to win the title by effectively cheating. I don’t particularly like the sheer number of chair-related antics he gets into. The chair around the neck and run into ring post spot is fine, as long as the referee is distracted. Everything else is irritating. Including a horrible Red Shoes ref bump when EVIL goes after Hirooki Goto’s massive anal beads. The actual spot where EVIL runs through Goto with them is fucking embarrassing.
Then he wrestles wearing the damn things. It’s like Goto knows he’s a bit stale and keeps trying to freshen up his act, with the worst possible ideas imaginable. When they cut the shit and just wrestle it’s a decent match, not deserving of the top end position it inhabits, but significantly better than the shit-fest they were having. The match is 20 minutes and the first ten are agonising. Nothing wrestling with grinding cheating from EVIL. They do some tidy stuff in the dying seconds, countering back and forth before Goto hits GTR to retain. The opposite of the last match. A dull, aimless, overlong match with an incredible finish.
Final Rating: **3/4
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. SANADA
There was a big issue here, coming in. With Okada having bested Naito, were New Japan likely to fluff the ‘most defences in one reign’ IWGP record by having him lose to SANADA, an LIJ second-stringer, a month later? The simple answer is no. So they have to so something here to convince the crowd that SANADA has any kind of shot at winning. 27 different men have held the IWGP title and Okada has held it longer than anyone else. This is his tenth defence of this reign. If he’s successful here he needs one more win to tie Tanahashi’s 11 defences record. Once he has this title defences record in his possession there’s only one more IWGP record he can get; most reigns. Only three men have held the title more than Okada’s four times; Tanahashi (7), Tatsumi Fujinami (6) and Kensuke Sasaki (5).
But this historic reign isn’t over yet and Okada has been champion for 600 days. He’s closing in on two years as champion. Those reigns don’t come around too often. SANADA is an incredible athlete. When he was younger he was considered a high-flier but bulked up and by the time he came to NJPW the flying was a bonus on top of his technical skill. This is a slow burning match. They have to establish SANADA as a threat but at the same time pace themselves for the long run. Okada’s pacing of these matches has definitely changed since his younger days. It’s much slower and more deliberate. The big spots are specific and aimed at building layers of context. Like when he drops SANADA on his head with a DDT off the rail to establish a neck issue. Okada acts like a dick, making sure to show SANADA he feels he’s beneath him. SANADA knows when to turn on sudden bursts of offence and the crowd erupt when he does the leapfrogs into the pescado. Sometimes you can win a crowd over with minimal flash by drop-feeding content to them. When you increase the pace it feels special. Whereas Ospreay and Hiromu just went full out all match.
When we hit 20 minutes the match picks up a great deal. I wouldn’t call the preceding 20 minutes sluggish but there’s a definite switch in pace. SANADA’s incredible athleticism allows him to find new ways to get the Skull End and he applies it here by hitting a moonsault press right into it. It’s a move AJ Styles used to do but with a different ending. It doesn’t feel like the finish though, and my scepticism is a major barrier for this match to overcome. SANADA tries his best, combining the athletic ability with an assault upon Okada’s neck (the neckbreaker off the ropes is impressive) and stealing Okada’s trademark spots to make himself look like a bigger deal. SANADA tells an incredible story in going for a moonsault instead of holding on to Skull End, suspecting Okada won’t give it up. But in doing so he hits his knee and struggles to the ropes for a second moonsault, ending up getting caught. That one lapse in judgement allowing Okada back into the match. They counter a little more but SANADA’s mistake is of crucial importance. Once Okada has that foothold back it’s all over. Rainmaker and Okada retains. This took time to get going but the last ten minutes were great.
Final Rating: ****
Post Match: There’s always a new challenger on the horizon. Normally they come running out here to make their point. This time Okada has a little something to say. He wants to be in the New Japan Cup, which normally doesn’t include the IWGP Champion. Traditionally the winner of that gets a shot at the champ. For the Anniversary Show Okada sets his own challenger; the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Will Ospreay.
“I’m going to be the one that beats you”
Probably the best of the three New Beginning cards, although the outcome of the main event was never in any doubt. The undercard was fine but several of the big five matches fell short. In particular the Goto-Evil match but Naito-Tacos also dropped short of expectations. New Japan set a very lofty bar for in-ring performances. It’s impossible for them to routinely get over it. Good showing from Ospreay and Hiromu here though. That junior division is very strong. I fully expect them to upgrade Ospreay to heavyweight at some point and the Okada match will be a demonstration of this.