NJPW New Beginning in Sapporo
January 27 2018
Due to my crowded schedule I’ll be looking at the two NJPW New Beginning shows but it’ll only be top end stuff. Hosts are Kevin Kelly & Don Callis. I’m skipping ahead to the last two hours of the broadcast.
Skipped: Elgin vs. Kitamura. I am excited to see how Kitamura fares in these matches but I also have very limited time. Also a bunch of meaningless tags. Sorry, I am a bad person but there’s a lot of wrestling to be seen.
Tetsuya Naito & Hiromu Takahashi vs. Will Ospreay & YOSHI-HASHI
Ospreay has having a WOTY year and it’s still January. If the year ended now he’d have the best catalogue of matches. He’s had an incredible run in the UK since the new year. The Naito-Ospreay match is a dream match but seeing as Will is still billed as a junior the focus is on him vs. Hiromu and Naito vs. Tacos. The Ospreay sequences in this match are majestic. He’s in such tremendous shape right now. Naito has to punt him in the balls to get the pin, which is quite the rub. This was a fairly typical undercard tag, elevated by Ospreay’s effort and exciting move set. YOSHI-HASHI shows some needed aggression afterwards, going after Naito while Will lies around nursing his nuts.
Final Rating: ***
EVIL, SANADA & BUSHI vs. Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto & Gedo
Kevin Kelly reminds us that Okada is on his way to breaking the last remaining IWGP record; number of successful defences in one reign. He’s got two to go and he has every record going. Next defence is SANADA, hence this match.
Their interactions are slick but emotionless, which is part of the issue with SANADA. He doesn’t have a personality to speak of. However his in-ring is excellent. It’s hard to measure if one negates the other. I couldn’t see him as champion though. This is a fairly meaningless match too with Okada taking it as easy as possible. It’s an easy skip, frankly. Okada looks increasingly tired as the match advances, which could be part of the storytelling. He’s had a long title reign, he must be fatigued from it. Goto roughs up BUSHI and Okada submits him with the cobra clutch. This was fine but not essential viewing. The big story here is that SANADA is essentially refusing to talk about his title match so Okada is trying to force him to say something. When SANADA refuses to talk again Okada shoves ‘Okada bucks’ into his mouth. Bit of a dick move. They’d been collected off the floor at ringside.
Final Rating: **1/2
Jay White & Roppongi 3K vs. Kenny Omega & The Young Bucks
Omega is defending his US title against Jay White tomorrow. The issue stemming from Omega offering White a spot in the Bullet Club only for Jay to turn him down and join CHAOS instead. Not that Jay has any more loyalty to Okada, he just wants a gang to back him up.
Jay has struggled with his new heel gimmick, a drastic change from his babyface young lion character when he was on excursion. New Japan have had to invest heavily in the booking to ensure he’s not seen as a chump, but rather a key cog in the faction wars. The Bucks and R3K do a lot of fun, high paced stuff. They’re also scheduled to meet. The Bucks, like them or not, have changed the style of junior wrestling globally. It’s quite the achievement. The high speeds, the tag team prowess and the hints of comedy have all been heavily imitated everywhere. Kenny wrestles in his t-shirt here, which is a dead giveaway that it’s not going to be a classic. Luckily the Bucks are so energised that it doesn’t even matter. The match breaks down early and I’m shocked they bother to have an Omega legal tag ahead of the messy finish. The Elite work well together as a trio, as always, and YOH showed some wonderful stuff here. Jay gets the last word; laying Kenny out with the Bladerunner. There’s a great little close-up where they can hear Omega asking the Bucks where they were and them responding with “we were posing for the hard cam”.
Final Rating: ***1/4
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. Minoru Suzuki
We get a nice little video package of Tana rescuing the IC belt from the disrespectful Naito, only to find himself face to face with the devil himself in Suzuki.
While the undercard on this show was massively underwhelming, this is the main event that everyone came for. Tanahashi is immediately in trouble because he comes in with a historically bad leg and Suzuki knows this. I love how Suzuki has taken to laughing at people when they’re unloading offence. It went over supremely well in London when he did it to Tyler Bate. Suzuki has a second point of attack because Tana also comes in with a hurt arm, from the torn bicep last year, and that’s when Tanahashi gets suckered in. Ideally you want to come in to a Suzuki match healthy! Tanahashi’s response is guts and dragon screws. Try to even up the leg injuries. Tana ended Naito’s title run with the Texas Cloverleaf (not the Sharpshooter, Don) but he can’t apply it to a savvy shooter like Suzuki.
While he basically gets the hold on, he can’t apply it.
— Arn~! (@ArnoldFurious) January 31, 2018
Suzuki has moments where he destroys Tanahashi from out of the blue but they actually tell a fine story of Tanahashi bossing the action with his skill and moveset. Although the story of the match is Tanahashi’s bad knee and I love that it’s bad because of a combination of Suzuki working it over and his own offence taking a toll on his body. This is exemplified when Tana hurts his own knee doing the High Fly Flow. It’s perfect storytelling; reminding us that Tana can be his own worst enemy, refusing to tone down his offence in spite of his injuries.
Suzuki cranks the shit out of a Figure Four. He’s been having some really good matches in early 2018, where as in 2017 his matches were interference heavy. If this is the start of a trend Suzuki could be in contention for 2018 WOTY. Here he relies solely on his violence. Leglocks and assorted assaults. Tanahashi does a magnificent job of making me think he’s finished. Struggling to get out of holds, struggling to get the ropes, getting kicked repeatedly. He’s gone from the confident ace to Suzuki’s bitch in a 20 minute spell. Minoru’s only problem is wanting to submit Tanahashi, rather than pin him. After he’s hit the Gotch Piledriver he could have gotten the pin but he wants Tana to tap. Tanahashi refuses but he stops answering so Red Shoes calls for the bell.
What a match this was! Minoru dismantling the cocky champion and wanting to conquer him. He’s getting up there in age but Suzuki is having a belting January. Had one of the best matches at WK, great match in the UK, great match here.
Final Rating: ****1/2
A nothing undercard but the main event was incredible. Terrific storytelling with Minoru Suzuki asserting himself on Hiroshi Tanahashi like no one has done before. I was disappointed that NJPW never went with Yuji Nagata for one last big run when he could still go and they’re happily not making the same mistake with Suzuki. He has the fire and passion to have a stellar 2018 and if the company gets behind him it could be an all-time run. Just keep the rest of Suzuki-gun in the locker room and we’re sweet.