New Japan marked their anniversary with another show heavy on singles matches, as Kazuchika Okada’s annual challenge saw him take on Will Ospreay in the main event.

We’re at the Ota City General Gymnasium in Tokyo, with Kevin Kelly and Don Callis on the English call. A late change to the card saw Katsuya Kitamura pulled from the show due to concussion… so his trial series won’t conclude today afterall as Nakanishi also drops off the card.

Yuji Nagata, Tomoyuki Oka, Shota Umino, Tetsuhiro Yagi & Ren Narita vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Tiger Mask, KUSHIDA & Ryusuke Taguchi
It’s a bit of an all-star team for Nagata and his merry band of Young Lions, and it’s Nagata who leads a jump start, with Ryusuke Taguchi eating a trio of dropkicks in the early going.

Shota Umino’s got a fair amount of that KT tape around his neck, which might not be a good sign… but he’s quickly out as Tetsuhiro Yagi eats a hip attack in the early going. Yagi tries to fight back with chops to Tiger Mask, but things go from bad to worse as Liger comes in and pulls him into a Romero special before Nagata breaks it up.

Tenzan’s in next with Mongolian chops, before Yagi finally tagged in Yuji, who gleefully cracked Tenzan with some kicks to the chest. Eventually one’s caught as Tenzan threw back some Mongolian chops before catching Nagata in a Mountain bomb. An Exploder gets an instant receipt as Nagata tagged out to Umino, who went straight for the newly-tagged in KUSHIDA, sidestepping a handspring before decking the former junior champion with a forearm.

KUSHIDA’s left cornered as the Young Lions charged at him with forearms ahead of an Umino missile dropkick for a near-fall. A pair of Boston crabs follow from Oka and Umino, except Liger just slaps Shota’s away as the veteran team comes back, with KUSHIDA’s hiptoss and cartwheel dropkick putting Umino back in his place. One DDT later, and KUSHIDA rolled into a Hoverboard lock and an eventual cross armbreaker as Umino tapped out. Typical opening match fare, with everyone getting a crack – although I was surprised it was Umino who ate the fall from that side… **¾

Thank you sound guy for fading out Callis’ ramblings…

Juice Robinson, David Finlay & Toa Henare vs. Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano
Toru Yano didn’t seem too fond of Juice Robinson’s new gear, given he aimed his entire bottle of water at him…

It’s Ishii and Henare starting us off, with Henare faring slightly better than you’d expect, until he was cracked with a headbutt from Ishii. Yano’s in next along with David Finlay, who gets pulled down by his hair as the entire match spilled outside for those guard rail spots we didn’t get in the opener.

Back in the ring, Finlay’s forced to wriggle out of an ushigoroshi attempt from Goto before making the tag to Juice… but only once he’d dealt with interference from Ishii and Yano. With all three opponents in the ring, Juice tries to go after them all, and eventually succeeds, dropping Goto with a spinebuster and a back senton before busting out Dusty punches for all! A clothesline from Juice left him and Goto down, before Henare’s brought back in to knock Goto down once more… but then Henare pokes the bear that is Ishii, and again drops him with a lariat!

Henare almost grabs an upset with a flying shoulder tackle on Goto, who was sent into the turnbuckle that Yano had exposed… as he’s want to do. A spear from Henare nearly nicks the win, but he keeps up on Goto… before running into an ushigoroshi and a GTR as the CHAOS trio grab the win. Perfectly acceptable wrestling, not really setting up anything obvious in terms of title shots, but keeping just about everyone strong going into the New Japan Cup later in the week. ***

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi) vs. Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) (c)
There’s some murmurs of discontent as to why Los Ingobernables de Japon wee added to this match, but hey, New Japan seem to love three-way tags. Apparently they made it to the match because of a win over Roppongi 3K at a non-televised house show. Fair enough!

The Suzuki-gun team made a point of starting on the floor, as YOH and Hiromu were in the ring to get us going with a rapid chop battle. Okay, who watched WALTER and thought “I want to draw blood in my matches too”? YOH edges ahead with some satellite headscissors, as Hiromu remained without any help, since BUSHI and Suzuki-gun stayed on the floor. Things finally change when SHO and YOH go for a dive, but that’s the cue for Kanemaru and Desperado to trip them in the ropes as we’re outside again, with more fun with guardrails. Inside, BUSHI uses a t-shirt to choke on SHO, before a double team hiptoss/facebuster gets another near-fall as a blind tag from Kanemaru led to some confusion.

SHO stays in for a long while as Desperado worked over his lower back with kicks, before another tag gets Hiromu in to keep up the work. Those blind tags just rile up everyone as the two challenger teams keep catching each other unawares, but it’s Kanemaru who nearly gets the win as he capitalises with a superplex and a Boston crab… eventually forcing SHO to crawl to the ropes for a break.

SHO tried to power through with a German suplex, only for his back to give out as he’s forced to tag into YOH… who clears house with dropkicks before he’s forced to fight off Suzuki-gun at the same time. Kanemaru blocked a suplex and kicks away at SHO instead, landing a low dropkick to send SHO tumbling to the canvas… but that’s a cue for more LIJ interference as Kanemaru’s taken outside via a Hiromu dropkick.

A double spear from SHO gets rid of Desperado and Kanemaru, but he’s still got BUSHI to worry over – especially once a sunset bomb off the apron from Hiromu took Desperado out. Dives followed from the champions, with YOH taking out Hiromu as BUSHI and SHO stayed in the ring, leading to the double-team Dominator/neckbreaker from the champions as they almost took home the win. More double-teams follow, but Takahashi blocks the 3K before BUSHI sprays SHO with mist… Kanemaru comes in with some whisky to equalise it, and in among the confusion Desperado nicks the win with a lucha roll-up – and we have new champions! That was a “blink and you’ll miss it” finish, but a result that I’m sure some will be unhappy with as Roppongi 3K again falling at their first title defence. Another solid match, and I enjoyed the bickering between the challengers stealing each others’ tags. ***¾

We were meant to have had EVIL and SANADA in a non-title tag match, but a reported injury forced EVIL off the card. Judging by the amount of tape he was wearing, YOSHI-HASHI wasn’t too far behind a similar fate…

A nicely-paced opening series led to YOSHI-HASHI landing a ‘rana to take SANADA outside, where he’s just about met with a plancha, before a backdrop into the crowd just saw SANADA land on his feet and drag YOSHI-HASHI deeper into the crowd with a Skull End. Back in the ring, SANADA keeps up the pressure on the neck with a cravat, before being dropped with a DDT as YOSHI-HASHI tried to get a breather.

It worked, as YOSHI-HASHI’s able to reply with a running Blockbuster after ducking a clothesline, before SANADA fought out of a Bunker Buster as the double leapfrog dropkick sent YOSHI-HASHI packing. SANADA’s plancha keeps him down on the floor, but back inside YOSHI-HASHI manages to counter a Fireman’s carry into a Butterfly lock, forcing SANADA into a rushed rope break.

From there, SANADA’s right back with a Saito suplex, but there’s still a lot of back-and-forth until SANADA was caught in his own move. A backflip sees SANADA get out into a Skull End… but they keep reversing until a YOSHI-HASHI back cracker got him free. A senton off the top from YOSHI-HASHI ends badly as he crashes into SANADA’s knees, but SANADA misses a moonsault of his own as he wanted to crash and burn also.

We’re back to strikes as SANADA and YOSHI-HASHI trade forearms, before an inside cradle almost shocked SANADA… as did YOSHI-HASHI’s Western lariat and a sit-out powerbomb… but SANADA’s still got something left in the tank. YOSHI-HASHI tried to empty that with a Butterfly lock, but SANADA makes it to the ropes before floating out of Karma and into a Skull End… clinging onto YOSHI-HASHI’s neck before suddenly letting go.

Why? So he could nail the moonsault instead… and that’s enough for the win! Pretty solid as a match, but in his first singles match since that title match with Okada last month SANADA didn’t come across like the star some hoped he would have. Maybe it’s the YOSHI-HASHI effect? Someone who is good in their role, but has a ceiling that meant that very few saw him as a serious risk for SANADA. ***½

Taichi vs. Tetsuya Naito
Taichi’s moved up to heavyweight, and after he took Naito hostage during New Beginnings, we’ve got this match… largely caused by Taichi taking offence at comments made by Naito after their match on the TAKATAICHIMANIA indy show in January.

Taichi drilled Naito with the mic stand before the bell, and we’re straight up the aisle brawling as Taichi left Naito laying in the entry way with a powerbomb. He barely beats the count-out as Naito was forced into the rather unfamiliar role of underdog, left reeling by a back spin kick to the knee from everyone’s least-favourite lip syncer.

Some low dropkicks of his own get Naito back in it, as he began to wear away on Taichi in the corner with stomps and a reverse DDT out of it. Taichi manages to avoid the corner dropkick, and instead takes Naito to the floor with one of his own, before Taichi turned it on, throwing Naito into the guard rails before nailing a kick to the head for a rather cocky two-count.

Naito’s able to block a superkick as he nails a tornado DDT instead, following up with a top rope ‘rana only to see a Destino attempt to get countered into a back suplex. Some lariats get Taichi back in it for another near-fall, before a reverse ‘rana from Naito made things more even… for a brief moment, as a Gedo clutch is escaped, only for Taichi to nail an enziguiri. Naito lands a German suplex at the second attempt as he softened up Taichi for Gloria, only for another Destino to get blocked as Taichi causes a ref bump… allowing him to hit a low blow and a Gedo clutch for a near-fall. Gedo, on Japanese commentary, looked far from impressed at that…

A spinning wheel kick from Naito keeps the pressure even, and there’s interference from TAKA Michinoku once Naito grabbed Taichi’s mic stand. It backfires as Naito’s able to get in a low blow before he breaks the mic stand over Taichi’s head (sending the microphone pinging into the crowd via the guard rails), much to the delight of the Tokyo crowd, as a Destino quickly puts away Taichi. An impressive showing from Taichi in his debut at this level, but there was no way on Earth he should have come close to beating someone like Naito… and fortunately that was not the case. Still, it established Taichi… and means it’s not going to be a foregone conclusion in his New Japan Cup match with Hiroshi Tanahashi. ***½

They played a video hyping up the Liger/Mysterio match at the New Japan show in the States… despite Rey’s injury?

IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Togi Makabe vs. Minoru Suzuki (c)
Hey, they didn’t mute out Led Zeppelin! After a brief staredown, we start with all guns blazing, with Suzuki and Makabe throwing shots and egging each other on in the process.

Makabe seemingly drew first blood as he took Suzuki outside and whipped him chest-first into the guard rails, before quickly bringing Suzuki back in… which was a mistake as the Intercontinental champion was back to throwing some right hands. The armbar in the ropes is attempted, but Makabe is able to punch free, only to get taken out and into the guard rails again. Suzuki grabs a chair from the ringside crew, but he ends up shoving away the referee before using another chair on Makabe’s legs as he was caught in the ringpost. Another chairshot’s blocked by the ref, who somehow disarms Suzuki to an applause from the crowd… but Suzuki’s already done damage as he went back to the ring to stomp on Makabe’s leg regardless.

A heel hook forces Makabe to pull himself into the ropes, as Suzuki kept on toying with him… only for Makabe to find enough to pull off a scoop slam. The mounted punches in the corner follow, as does the Northern Lights suplex, but Suzuki’s got plenty left in him to kick out. An attempt to reply with a PK’s quickly blocked, as the pair go back and forth with forearms, eventually ending Makabe down to his knees… only for a death valley driver to take Suzuki down.

The spider German suplex follows, despite Suzuki’s best efforts, but the King Kong knee drop misses as Suzuki’s back in with submissions. Makabe stuffs another roll-through for an ankle lock and counters with a German suplex, but a mule kick to the thigh stops a Dragon suplex as Makabe eventually nails a lariat for a near-fall.

A dropkick from Suzuki quickly restores parity, as he follows back in with a rear naked choke, only to struggle with a Gotch piledriver. More slaps back and forth quickly ended when Suzuki took out Makabe’s knee, before going back to the rear naked choke and Gotch piledriver to win the match. Solid enough, but this had its limitations – good strikes, but there’s only so much you can do with this particular combination. ***

Will Ospreay vs. Kazuchika Okada
There’s a respectful handshake at the start, as Ospreay and Okada start off on the mat, exchanging the early advantage with Ospreay’s hammerlock forcing Okada to find a reversal.

That he does, with Okada tripping Ospreay instead, grabbing the leg as he tried to neutralise Ospreay’s aerial game. Okada sparks an indyriffic pinning series, but Ospreay is clearly even to it, and forces Okada to roll outside after a backslide nearly nicked the win. Back inside, the pair trade knuckle locks, with Ospreay trying in vain to flip out as he’s forced to repeatedly bridge up to avoid getting pinned, as they turn into a monkey flip to keep those pinning attempts going.

Yep, if you thought Ospreay was only good doing flips, your preconceptions are getting challenged tonight!

A slap from Ospreay acted as a signal of intent as he shoves Okada down to the mat, following up with a ‘rana and a faked out dive as Okada nails a shotgun dropkick as a means of retribution. They headed outside, where Ospreay’s slammed on the mat, before Okada ran a mini lap of honour to deck Ospreay with a big boot on the floor. Back inside, a DDT gets Okada a near-fall as he slowed the pace down, keeping up with a neckbreaker as Ospreay was again grounded. A missed clothesline’s made up for with a boot to the head, but Okada’s quickly dropped with a handspring enziguiri as Ospreay mounted another comeback, blasting Okada with the Shibata-ish dropkick into the corner.

Ospreay keeps up with a standing shooting star press, but Okada’s quickly back out with a dropkick to knock the junior champion down to the floor, but a springboard off the guard rails gets Will back it as he quickly went back into the ring for a Space Flying Tiger Drop! A lifting reverse DDT gets another near-fall on Okada, ahead of the Robinson special corkscrew kick… only for Okada to counter an Oscutter into the cobra clutch!

It’s escaped, but Ospreay runs into a neckbreaker slam as Okada started to edge ahead, fending off a brief Ospreay fight back with a dropkick as Okada seemed to play around with Will… but that only angered him. Forearms back-and-forth follow, before Okada ducks a head kick, only to run into a Spanish fly for another near-fall… but Ospreay grabs Okada’s hand from the kick-out and gets a sorta Rainmaker!

Ospreay heads up top for an imploding 450, but he took just too long to make a cover as Okada found a way to kick out, before he blocks an OsCutter and scooped Will up into a tombstone! The back and forth continues as Ospreay came close with a powerbomb, only to get met with a bridging German suplex as Okada dropped him almost onto his head for a near-fall.

You sensed the end was perhaps nigh for Ospreay from there, as Okada grabbed hold of the wrist for some Rainmakers… two connect as Okada lets go, before he pulled Ospreay up for a third one, which is ducked… but another OsCutter is caught and turned into a spinning tombstone before a final rainmaker sealed the win. Phenomenal stuff – although Ospreay only had a short spell where he was on top, he never looked too far behind, and was made to look like a true star in defeat. ****¼

All in all, New Japan’s 46th anniversary show was pretty solid… but with the New Japan Cup right ahead, it was always going to be a standalone event with very little here building up to anything meaningful. The main event was as fantastic as you’d expect going in, while the junior tag title change on the undercard was rather surprising in the moment. I don’t know how long they can continue to keep the junior tag titles as hot potatoes without harming the wider credibility of the division… but it’s an interesting experiment nevertheless.

A quick programming note here – as we’re going to be in Germany for wXw, our New Japan coverage will be delayed and slightly different for the upcoming New Japan Cup. Keep an eye out for summarised thoughts on the tournament rather than our usual blow-by-blow coverage!