NJPW New Beginning in Sapporo N2
February 2, 2020
We’re in Sapporo, Japan at the Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center. This is the second night in Sapporo and like last year the second night has drawn a larger crowd although it’s down from over 6000 to a crowd tonight of 5,690. That show was headlined by Naito vs. Taichi. This one also headlined by Taichi. It’s perhaps a little early in the year to be thinking about business comparisons but it is interesting that NJPW have drawn a little down on both Sapporo shows. This one is down 7% year on year.
Toa Henare vs. Yota Tsuji
Tsuji is looking good. He’s a powerhouse, has nice hair and has the kind of face that says “when I’m a heel you will fear me”. Toa wins here with the Rock Bottom. This was solid.
Toa calls out Shingo afterwards.
Final Rating: **1/2
Manabu Nakanishi, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Tiger Mask IV vs. Great Bash Heel & Yuya Uemura
Nak is on his farewell tour. He needed to hang them up and I’m glad he opted to bow out this year before he got too embarrassing. Uemura decides to take a few bumps for him. It’s a nice display of respect for an immobile old fart. Kevin Kelly tries to drop some Nakanishi numbers here about how successful he is in Sapporo and I have no idea where he’s getting them from. In singles in Sapporo he’s 4-4 including losses to Muto, Yatsu, Ron Simmons and Gary Goodridge! Unless he’s talking about the building itself but even so he’s slightly out. TM wins with the Tiger Suplex on Uemura.
Final Rating: **1/2
Gabriel Kidd vs. El Phantasmo
Kidd wrestling his third NJPW singles (after Uemera and Tsuji earlier this tour) and his first match on a big NJPW show. Kidd may be familiar to fans of WCPW as he wrestled there a lot before becoming a Young Lion and moving to California after catching the eye of Katsuyori Shibata. He’s a young man with the desire to get the job done. Kidd’s basics are very good but he has to cope with ELP’s wacky horseshit here. I like ELP but there’s a time and place for it and I prefer him in tags. Kidd has already been wrestling for 7 years and he shows a lot of poise here, knowing how to put together a match using the basic moves he’s been given. ELP wins here but Kidd looks solid as fuck. He’s rebuilt, better than ever before. God bless Shibs.
Final Rating: ***
Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii & Robbie Eagles vs. Shingo Takagi, EVIL & BUSHI
The LIJ trio here are the Openweight trios champs. This is not only non-title but a preview of an actual title match on this tour. It’s not even on the big show next weekend but on a random midweek show. Nobody cares who the champions are; just defend the belts on every show! Shingo and Goto carry on where they left off yesterday and if Shingo is the fuel that keeps Goto fired up all fucking year I am here for it. Meanwhile Shingo gets Ishii all fired up too. Why can’t he feud with everyone? Eagles hits the 450 on BUSHI’s leg and he taps to the Ron Miller Special for the second night in a row. This was a really fun sprint. Shingo appears capable of fixing everyone at the moment. If only they could work with Dragon Gate (or barring that Strong Hearts).
Final Rating: ***1/2
Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & DOUKI) vs. Jon Moxley, Ryusuke Taguchi & Roppongi 3K
NB being split over three shows means the logical build to Mox vs. Suzuki doesn’t come to a head here but rather extends for another match until next week. This does allow us the Mox/Gooch dream team however.
Suzuki, not content with merely beating Mox yesterday, tries to take the man’s arm. He’s only got one eye, isn’t that enough? Mox deserves it for throwing those goddamn awful looking knees that he keeps doing. This might be the first time I’ve actually seen DOUKI wrestle a full match and he’s pretty cool. Mox gets so worked up fighting Suzuki he actually boots Gooch! Taguchi makes the miracle recovery though and taps DOUKI out with the anklelock. This was tremendous fun.
Final Rating: ***1/4
KENTA, Jay White & Taiji Ishimori vs. Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & Hiromu Takahashi
If Ishimori and Hiromu could just not tag out that would be super. This is 15 minutes but feels longer. They run heat on Hiromu, which sounds like a good idea but is a bit dull. The Naito vs. KENTA feud isn’t doing much for me. Likewise SANADA vs. Jay White, for different reasons. At least SANADA and White try hard but they have dim ideas that don’t work. SANADA can’t even get the finish on Ishimori right even though Ishimori gifts him it. Some guys are just insufferable.
Final Rating: **3/4
British Heavyweight Championship
Zack Sabre Jr (c) vs. Will Ospreay
Ospreay wants the only title he’s never been able to win in the UK. He had a sensational match against Sabre in Walthamstow that is one of my favourite experiences watching wrestling live. Leading the Sabre Section, right next to Rob Reid cheering on Will.
Zack’s attitude towards Ospreay is brilliant. He’s so cocky. As with the Scurll story, Will brings this British baggage with him to New Japan. A guy who he cannot beat in the UK and now cannot beat in Japan too. Zack won’t play Will’s game either. There’s a great spot where Ospreay wants a test of strength and Zack completely refuses. “Piss off mate”. The mat work in this is insanely good. The speed of the counters as they struggle for position is unreal at times. It’s brilliant.
The one Zack transition to block a standing SSP right into an armbar is crazy good. Ospreay being able to hang with Sabre much closer than in any previous contest shows how far along he’s come since joining New Japan. He’s not dominated this time. He’s not out of his league. He’s not frustrated. Sabre is the one who finds himself in unusual territory as Will can now absorb all his strikes and he hits harder so the secondary approach for Sabre is gone and Ospreay can handle the mat stuff better. Where Will loses his way is in littering the match with spots that Sabre knows like the hook kick, which is basically an invitation to grab Will’s leg. The dumbest move is undoubtedly the Oscutter, showing while Ospreay has learned a lot, he’s still willing to throw himself blind into inevitable ruin.
This isn’t so much a criticism of the match as it is praise. The match shows how Ospreay has learned and how he hasn’t, from a storyline point of view, and why this isn’t his time to finally win in spite of his improvements. Sabre shows his intelligence as a wrestler and especially when he rolls out of the ring to stop a pin. Also when exploiting Will’s need to establish distance on spots like the Oscutter and Hidden Blade. Ospreay is so resilient. He’s tougher than ever before and still has that engine. Zack finds a new finish to retain; wrapping his legs around Ospreay’s neck and pulling back on the arm. Ospreay was so close here but Sabre found a way. Sensational match. Easily the best from the two Sapporo shows.
Final Rating: ****3/4
Taichi vs. Kazuchika Okada
This match is Taichi’s opportunity to prove he belongs at this level. In spite of what I’ve written about Taichi over the years he is actually capable of doing so. Taichi’s issues stem from working a certain style, which involves an enormous amount of bullshit. When he remains focused on his in-ring Taichi is genuinely good. He’s not on Okada’s level and probably shouldn’t be main eventing a show at this stage in his development but I’m not mad, like I would have been 2 years ago when all his matches stank.
They do a good job of limiting Taichi’s bullshit and the iron glove feels like a natural part of the match. The crutch that Taichi needs every time he gets into trouble. I like the overarching concept of this match being Taichi believing he’s due and Okada essentially putting him in his place. There’s no belt on the line. It’s just a demonstration of Taichi vs. Okada and who is where in the grand scheme of things. Taichi constantly having to cheat in order to get anywhere and Okada just battering the poor delusional bastard the rest of the time. As with the bulk of Okada’s matches it probably doesn’t need to be 30 minutes long and the length is a major issue. On the plus side the outside brawling and persistent cheating does make it feel like a different match to the standard Okada main. Okada turns the juice up towards the finish and wins with the Rainmaker. Good showing again from Taichi but it won’t crack a top ten Okada matches in 2020.
Final Rating: ***3/4