This past weekend, New Japan wrapped up its New Beginning series of shows with events in Osaka and Niigata, ultimately crowning a new IWGP Intercontinental champion. The New Beginning series started at the end of January, with the company’s Road to New Beginning shows, stretching out over seven nights before they arrived in Osaka on Thursday.
Osaka was a solid show that served to set-up Sunday’s pay-per-view, starting with a match between the two Gaijin young lions, with Jay White going over David Finlay with a half crab that morphed into a Lion Tamer-like Boston Crab in a match that needed a lot more time to progress.
Other highlights from Osaka saw the Bullet Club win the NEVER six man tag team titles, with Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Yujiro Takahashi win the belts after Tonga kicked Toru Yano low and hit a double arm DDT to unseat Yano and the Briscoes. Katsuyori Shibata retained his NEVER Openweight title with a typically bruising rematch against Tomohiro Ishii, whilst Kazuchika Okada retained the IWGP Heavyweight title against Hirooki Goto. Osaka was a solid show, but if you only have time to catch one of the two New Beginning shows, then this was the skippable.
Valentines’ night in Japan saw the conclusion of the show, with an event in the Aore Nagaoka in Niigata, as New Japan put on yet another fun show that followed the traditional wrestling belief of everything building to a main event.
Niigata started with a brief six-man tag team match as the Bullet Club team of Cody Hall and the Young Bucks easily overcame the comically put-together team of Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Tiger Mask, and the increasingly useless Captain New Japan. Afterwards, ROH’s Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly – better known as reDRagon – swept aside Gedo and Kazushi Sakuraba.
An eight-man tag between Tencozy (Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima) and the newly crowned IWGP junior heavyweight tag team champions of Ricochet and Matt Sydal defeated the group of Ryusuke Taguchi, Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi and David Finlay. This was extremely entertaining for what it was, a third on the card match with a majority of the bout in their 40s. Of course, David Finlay – the young lion – took the fall, eating a Shooting Star Press from Ricochet.
We segued into another tag match, with Los Ingobernables de Japon being represented by EVIL and Tetsuya Naito – who had the retired Milano Collection A.T. leave the commentary desk and hold the ropes open for Naito – taking on the gaijin duo of Michael Elgin and Jay White. In the few matches of White’s that I have seen, he is extremely impressive for someone with the level of experience that he has; and assuming he’s handled correctly, could become a big star for someone. Like Finlay in the prior match, White was there to take the fall, with a flash STO from EVIL causing the New Zealander to take the L.
The Briscoe Brothers and Toru Yano regained the NEVER six man tag team titles in another short match, defeating the short-time tag champions of Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Yujiro Takahashi when Yano went low on Takahashi and rolled him up.
At this point the show went from good to great, with the final four matches on the card really improving – firstly, Kazuchika Okada pinned Juice Robinson with the Rainmaker as Okada, Tomohiro Ishii and Yoshi Hashi beat Robinson, Katsuyori Shibata and Hirooki Goto. That match probably wasn’t one to watch if you’re feeling sensitive about head injuries, as Shibata and Ishii really went hell for leather on each other with chops, kicks and headbutts.
KUSHIDA retained his IWGP Junior Heavyweight title over BUSHI in a little over a quarter of an hour in a decent match, however the interference of the rest of Los Ingobernables threatened to ruin the bout, as EVIL and Naito liberally involved themselves in the match. BUSHI sprayed mist which wasn’t enough to get the win, nor get him disqualified as the referee was somehow oblivious to the green fluid on the champion’s face. Ryusuke Taguchi and Jay White involved themselves from the ringside area to hold back EVIL and Naito, allowing KUSHIDA to capitalise with the Hoverboard lock for a tapout win.
As a semi-final match, Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows’ last ride (not counting next weekend’s joint shows with Ring of Honor) was something of a muted affair, with Tomoaki Honma and Togi Makabe’s successful defence of the IWGP tag team titles meant that they didn’t get to follow AJ Styles nor Shinsuke Nakamura with a win on their way to WWE. Honma and Makabe jumped the Bullet Club duo at the bell, harking back to the endless matches where they had done the same to them, but by this point you could tell that the crowd were waiting for the main event. That being said, the match was really good, but knowing the departures of Anderson and Gallows made this tough to get invested in. Once Makabe’s knee-drop was followed up with a diving headbutt from Honma (seriously, stop that!), the Bullet Club’s Tama Tonga challenged the champions to a match, with a new, unknown Bullet Club member to be involved.
Kenny Omega reached a new career high in the main event, beating Hiroshi Tanahashi in half an hour of what must be a certain contender for Match of the Year when we’re all looking at nominations in ten months’ time. Certainly, the fans in the first few rows in Niigata will have a hard time forgetting, particularly the spot where Omega suplexed Tanahashi into the first four rows of seats, before connecting with a Quebrada onto the downed Tanahashi. Most of this match saw Omega working over Tanahashi’s taped shoulder, whilst Tanahashi returned favour by targeting the knee.
A High Fly Flow from the top rope to the floor probably wasn’t the best move for Tanahashi’s banged up shoulder, but then again, either was Omega’s decision to re-enter the ring, which left him vulnerable for a Dragon screw in the ropes after a barrage of chops to the shoulder had no effect. Omega appeared to have passed out in a Texas Cloverleaf, but Cody Hall returned, after he and Takahashi had earlier been ordered to the back by the Bullet Club leader. Omega still had some help coming his way, when the Young Bucks crawled out from under the ring and hit stereo superkicks on Tanahashi. Now, whilst Jim Cornette will probably say that that’s the best place for either of the Young Bucks, their involvement added to the match, particularly in giving Omega heat for his earlier shenanigans.
Omega’s Styles Clash got him a near fall, before he ended a series of trading blows with a reverse huracanrana, only for Tanahashi to return the favour as he used the reverse huracanrana to avoid the One Winged Angel. A bridging German suplex got Tanahashi a near fall before the Bullet Club interjected, adding a garbage can into the match. Omega tried to throw it at the back of Tanahashi, but he ducked, meaning that the referee was taking out with the flying trash can (which should have been Duke Droese’s finisher, in hindsight!)
The Young Bucks joined the fray to stomp down on Tanahashi, before setting the can on his injured arm as they tried to Pillmanize it. However, Michael Elgin ran in to take out the Bucks with the fallaway slam/Samoan drop combo and carry the Bucks out of the match. Tanahashi threw Omega onto the trash can, before hitting a neckbreaker and a slingblade for a near fall. Another High Fly Flow floored Omega, but Tanahashi went for another one and ate the mat instead. Omega got up first and connected with a Bom a Ye knee to the back of the head, and another to the front of the head for a very near fall, but another Bom a Ye, followed by the One Winged Angel got Omega the win and the vacated Intercontinental title!
This was a complete breath of fresh air, and it’s going to take a a lot of stellar performances for this match not to feature in the reckoning for people’s match of the year balloting. That being said, there was a lot of concern for Tanahashi going in with his shoulder injury, and this match won’t have done anything to help him.
Coming out of these two shows, New Japan obviously needs to create a new challenger for Kenny Omega, and with Nakamura gone and Tanahashi among the walking wounded, it’s tough to see where they can go to keep that title credible. Of course, the same can be said for the other singles champions of Okada and Ishii… The Honma/Makabe tag title feud with the Bullet Club will continue against two new members following the departure of Anderson and Gallows to WWE, and it’ll be interesting to see who Tama Tonga’s new arrival is to a) have good matches and b) keep that feud going.
New Japan World’s next big events are this weekend, with the group combining with Ring of Honor for two shows out of Korakuen Hall on Friday and Saturday evening (Friday and Saturday AM, UK time), before they move onto their series of Lion’s Gate project shows, featuring the company’s Young Lions (think of it as developmental). All three of those shows will be worth a watch, and we’ll be recapping them here on Back Body Drop in the coming weeks!