NJPW New Beginning in Osaka
February 9, 2020
Hey, I woke up with most of this show already in the bag so I’m watching on VOD. Apologies for sleeping in but I was up late watching the opening day of the XFL season (no, really). The DC vs. Seattle game was hilariously bad but my beloved LA Wildcats collapsing against Houston was an actually good game of US football.
I talked a little bit about attendances last weekend. This week we have a more interesting contrast. In Osaka for New Beginning last year they drew 5,500 at the Edion Arena. This year we’re in Osaka Jo Hall, which is a much bigger building. They have a staggering 11,411 in here. Business may have been down 7% last weekend but it’s up 48% year on year here. Could they have run Osaka Jo Hall last February and drawn 11k? Who knows but they’ve clearly gone big here.
Manabu Nakanishi, Yuji Nagata & TenKoji vs. Ryusuke Taguchi, Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma & Toa Henare
This is part of Nakanishi’s retirement tour.
There’s a lot of ‘greatest hits’ business going on. Not just from Nakanishi but also the rest of the veteran’s team. A fun little contest culminates in Kojima hitting a lariat on poor Honma. I know I’ve spent most of his recent career mocking Nakanishi for being old, immobile and needing to retire but he will be missed. Maybe Mascara Don can carry on his legend every January.
Final Rating: **1/2
IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship
Roppongi 3K (c) vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
Ghostbusters Rocky is in R3K’s corner. As with all Gedo tag divisions this one is not doing anything for me. Suzuki-gun feels like a cobbled together unimportant team. Somehow they’ve had three title runs. The story in this one is SHO being effectively eliminated by being heavily worked over. They don’t stick with that but have SHO favour his knee in the later going. He’s not even remotely convincing in this attempt at body part psychology and the match is better when they just forget about it. It’s quite fun when Kanemaru gets the Suntory Surprise blocked but him kicking out of Shock Arrow is stupid. I guess they want to tell the story of Roppongi 3K being stronger as a team but I figured Shock Arrow was always treated like a strong finish to give SHO a singles boost when they pull the trigger on him. Some bizarre decisions throughout this match.
Final Rating: **3/4
Post Match: Taguchi comes out to celebrate with a team he’s been coaching.
He calls Rocky Romero a great wrestler and suggests they challenge for the junior tag titles! Rocky will be challenging his own team! That’s actually pretty great. Unless Rocky wins. At last something fun in the junior tags.
Kota Ibushi, Hiroshi Tanahashi & FinJuice vs. Bullet Club
As if they had FinJuice win the belts just to lose them on a meaningless US tour in front of 500 people so GOD can get a SIXTH title run. I almost jokingly put in a high number to take the piss but I didn’t actually realise the real number was that high.
Tanahashi’s hair is very extra special today. There isn’t much going on here until Chase Owens decides to start a feud with Kota Ibushi and it’s decent stuff. Chase is getting massacred if they work singles but they could have that bubbling away as a background thing in tags to keep Ibushi amused for a few months. Juice is also very switched on here and determined to stand out in an otherwise meaningless tag. Jado does a couple of sneaky Singapore cane shots but Tana still rolls Tanga Loa up for the pin. If Tanahashi can spend his twilight years rescuing tag team wrestling that would be super.
Final Rating: ***
Zack Sabre Jr & Taichi vs. Kazuchika Okada & Will Ospreay
This is a little strange as these matches have already happened. Why the post game preview? Ospreay vs. Sabre is happening again in Rev Pro next week so they are hyping that for Andy Q. The Okada vs. Taichi stuff? I’ve seen that enough. I had 30 minutes of that already. Ospreay and Sabre carry on where they left off too but that was a banger so this is fine. Especially as they carry the selling and body part stuff from the singles match. The fluid storytelling with Will being too fresh to be put away by the same things as before and instead resulting in more parity mat work. It’s great. May they feud forever. There are times in this match where Ospreay is so startlingly far ahead of everyone in athleticism that Taichi looks borderline flabbergasted. He can barely cope with taking the Oscutter. Rainmaker floors Taichi soon afterwards. Taichi has improved but he’ll never be on the same level as any of these guys and this really showed that.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Jay White vs. SANADA
Gedo knows he’s booked a dud here. It’s fourth top. Hidden away where no one will notice it. Both of these men are capable of having a good match but more often than not I find them a chore to sit through. The difference here is that there’s no main event expectation and no main event duration. Although they do go over twenty minutes, which is still too long for two guys who tend to litter their matches with filler. The one positive here is that Jay White looks completely at home in a character that’s felt forced during his run as a heel. He seems to have finally settled into the Switchblade. Maybe it’s the beard?
There’s a beautiful babyface hidden behind this mess. Jay needs to bring that persona and aggression because SANADA generally brings nothing to his matches. He is the proverbial blank slate. He took an online personality test but it came back as “not found”. I don’t want to rag on the guy too much because he’s really athletic but that’s it. There’s nothing else there. At least his beard is less shit now. The match has a major problem and that’s Gedo. He’s been a detriment to Jay White since they started working together and his constant interference means Jay can never stand on his own two feet. Win or lose, he’s constantly being helped by a guy who claims White as the future of the company.
*at this point I stopped the show and watched a load of sport: XFL stuff at the bottom of this post!*
It seems I stopped at the ideal place, just shy of 20 minutes, as the last couple of minutes are great. It doesn’t excuse everything beforehand. Nor can I overlook a horrendous attempted shiranui where SANADA lands on his head. Bladerunner finishes for Jay. He’s clearly above SANADA on the Gedo totem pole. I really didn’t care who won here. I have no investment in either guy. Jay is the one I slightly prefer because if he turns face he’ll be great again.
Final Rating: **
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs. Ryu Lee
Lee is ahead 46-44 in all matches, including tags. Ryu is well ahead in singles but most of those took place in Mexico. 2-2 in New Japan. It’s quite the feud. They have a history of going full tilt boogie.
The chop battle is insane. They’re hitting really fucking hard. It demonstrates how intense this feud is. It’s not just limited to crazy flips but permeates every single moment of their matches. Them building a match around strikes is not what I was expecting. They get to the five minute warning and they’ve basically only done chops! On a close up you can see his chest is purple. It’s sickening. They follow this with an insane dive. Hiromu lined up on the rail and Lee hitting a tope into a spear. He did something like that with Ospreay and my mind was blown. Adding to his regular repertoire is quite the thing. I love the call backs in this and I love the counters. The dodge on the double stomp on the ropes is particularly good. The fighting over position stuff on the top rope is insane. It’s genuinely terrifying to watch. The overhead throw! I’m literally shaking.
It takes a lot to completely freak me out in 2020 but this match is doing it. I’m banging on my desk. Lee lands on his head a bunch of times. It’s almost like an apology for injuring Hiromu. As crazy as the match is, god is in the details. The callbacks, the familiarity, the innovation to find something new and little things like Hiromu having the sense to grab the ropes rather than waste energy kicking out. NJPW killing it with the camera angle so the ref was blocking it too. Ramping up the drama. Timebomb, death shot elbow and another Timebomb finishes. Good lord this was special. This fucking ruled. It ruled! I’m glad they both survived.
Final Rating: *****
IWGP United States Championship
Jon Moxley (c) vs. Minoru Suzuki
How do you even follow that juniors match? It helps they both have strong characters and they can go a different route. This is somewhat of a dream match so that does help.
Mox encouraging Suzuki to come and fight him on the ramp is met by a huge smile from Suzuki. In an interview this week Suzuki said that Mox can’t do a lot of the smooth wrestling that the NJPW dojo guys are taught and that’s what makes him great as a wrestler. His rough edges. Suzuki is mental here. His charge into the English commentary area to get a chair is marvelous.
Then him smiling after he’s been put through a table! The crowd love that. Minoru Suzuki is out here having the time of his fucking life. Bashing himself in the head with a piece of table and laughing. “Come on, come on Jon”. Suzuki treating Mox the same way he did Tyler Bate is fantastic television.
The no selling and laughing as the match reaches its climax is beautiful. Two characters having a wild time beating each other up. Mox wins with Death Rider. I loved this. The character work alone is worth seeing it. My current concern is that Suzuki is likely to be leaving New Japan this year. The good news is he could potentially turn up anywhere.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Post Match: Zack Sabre Jr belts, literally, Mox and seems to have set his sights on being a double champion. Two countries; one champ.
Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. KENTA
The heat for KENTA is brilliant. I love a heel.
I’d like to clarify that I don’t like bullshit (i.e. Jay White needing Gedo to beat everyone and having the same match all the time) but I like someone who can get over as a heel on their own. His devious attack on Naito at WK is what drew this monster house. There’s a question as to whether KENTA, who is broken down, can wrestle the NJPW main event style with the length that comes attached to that. He solves this by stalling extensively. The opening five minutes has no contact at all. What a contrast to Hiromu vs. Lee!
The match is quite dull but this is largely Gedo’s fault for giving them 35 minutes to fill. KENTA is at his best when he’s just being a shithead. Stepping on the Naito bear is tremendous. KENTA’s performance is solid enough. He throws a lot of meaty kicks and the mannerisms are great. They work around his limitations. Of course this doesn’t need to be this long and Naito isn’t the white meat babyface he used to be. He tries to utilize that old fashioned babyface style while not drifting out of his newer heel persona. People like Naito because of the attitude so it’s key he doesn’t lose that but I don’t see how else they could structure the match. Anything where Naito works like a dick draws sympathy for KENTA, which you don’t want.
The ref gets bumped as the match is getting good, because of course he does, and Jay White runs in. BUSHI tries to save and eats a Bladerunner but Hiromu makes the actual save. Where the match succeeds is in putting things in place for use later. The exposed buckle, leading to horrific accidental blood, is fantastic.
The match rapidly goes home with Naito bleeding a gusher and Destino finishes.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Post Match: Naito calls out Hiromu for his next title defence in line with the anniversary tradition.
Finally, because I’m in the mood after a weekend of XFL action, here are the XFL rankings after week one for anyone interested.
XFL Power Rankings:
- St Louis Battlehawks. We were told St Louis were not good. They wouldn’t turn up early because of injuries to key personnel. Instead they won at the highly fancied Dallas.
- Houston Roughnecks. Had a stand out performance at QB from PJ Walker and ran roughshod over an LA team that steadily fell apart in the process.
- New York Guardians. Very strong D. Completely shut down a decent looking Tampa Bay side.
- DC Defenders. Won their opener convincingly but did so against Seattle, who at times were embarrassing.
- Dallas Renegades. Still without their starting QB Landry Jones they looked solid but with Landry they should make the play offs.
- Tampa Bay Vipers. A lack of cutting edge around the red zone cost them but the yardage they put together against a strong New York team looked promising.
- LA Wildcats. Collapsed completely in the second half. Charles Kanoff won’t be starting all season so they’ll likely improve.
- Seattle Dragons. Well, they were a bit shit weren’t they. (Sorry Mike).