New Japan’s New Beginning in Osaka was a rarity – a card almost entirely full of singles matches as a trio of title shots wrapped up the tour!

Katsuya Kitamura vs. Yuji Nagata
The sixth match in Kitamura’s trial series, and I’ve a feeling it’ll be a whitewash… he’s certainly not going to beat Nagata, who’s out with the All Asia tag title he won last weekend in All Japan.

Kitamura’s holding his own in the early stages, resisting a tie-up attempt as Nagata took him to the ropes, before he refused to budge from some shoulder tackles, instead knocking down the veteran with one. A front facelock looked to have Nagata in trouble, but he punched free, and replied with an armbar as Kitamura dragged his way to the ropes. Things quickly descended into a striking battle as Kitamura’s chops prompted some kicks out of Nagata… and it’s the Young Lion who’s quickly finding himself beaten down in the corner.

Another Kitamura comeback sees him chop his way into the match, before he blocked a gutwrench attempt from Nagata, and landed one of his own for a near-fall! An Argentine backbreaker from Kitamura almost sees him force Nagata to tap, but a rear naked choke gets Nagata free… briefly! More slaps fired up Nagata, who got plenty of them back in return, but he was able to send Kitamura to his knees… and the monster’s back up!

Boots from Nagata had little effect until one was caught and turned into a powerbomb for a near-fall. Nagata’s straight back in with armbars for another rope break, before an Exploder and a PK almost put Kitamura away! Even more chops from Kitamura just rile up Nagata some more, leading to a spinning heel kick as Kitamura hit the deck… before a Backdrop Hold picked up the win. Fun stuff, despite Kitamura not looking close, the progression is definitely showing. ***

Suzuki-gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado) vs. Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH)
It’s non-title here, which is just as well given that SHO’s back still looked to be bothering him. The jump start doesn’t help, although SHO’s able to throw in a spear to Kanemaru as the champions quickly double-teamed Desperado as they found their feet.

The Suzuki-gun pair take them outside soon afterwards for the obligatory guard rail bumps as Kanemaru then suplexed SHO on the floor, before they just went back to the ring as Despy tried to snatch the pin. YOH’s efforts to save his partner work a little, but they’re nowhere near getting a tag out, with SHO’s back again getting worn down on. Eventually SHO’s able to make the tag out, but YOH is almost instantly forced to fight away a double-team, which he succeeds in with some diving uppercuts to Despy.

A springboard from the apron sees YOH land a neat double stomp to Desperado for a near-fall, only for Despy to land a spinebuster in return as Kanemaru looked to take over. SHO’s back, but he tries too early for a German suplex and his back gives out, before instead a pair of jumping knees had Kanemaru on the back foot. The German suplex comes off for SHO, but Despy breaks up that cover, before SHO’s back gave out again as the champions went for their 3K finisher.

That opened the door for Kanemaru to go right for the back again, dropping SHO with a superplex for a two-count, before trying his luck with a Boston crab. On the outside, YOH’s getting choked with a chair as Desperado sneaks in a chairshot to SHO, before a Lion Tamer forced the submission… and now I guess Suzuki-gun will be getting their title shot? It’s a little weird seeing Roppingi 3K lose so soon after they regained the titles, but I do like how they’ve not “magically healed” the injury overnight like happens so often in wrestling. Decent match to set the stage down the line. ***¼

After the match, Rocky Romero dove onto SHO to save his back… and gets thrown outside as Despy posed with the belts.

Togi Makabe, Michael Elgin, KUSHIDA & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Takashi Iizuka, Taichi & TAKA Michinoku)
You know, Kevin Kelly could be saying all sorts of stuff while he’s audio-muted to save us from Led Zeppelin…

Makabe leads the jump start against Suzuki-gun, understandably so given that his challenge for an Intercontinental title shot was refused. Yet weirdly, Minoru only has eyes for Makabe, taking him outside before he was sent chest-first into the guard railings. Meanwhile, TAKA’s in the ring poking everyone in the eye as the remaining six guys tried to put on a match while everyone was watching Suzuki and Makabe go at it.

Elgin and Iizuka end up going into the crowd as the ring just empties, while Taichi’s just choking Taguchi with some camera card, all while he rode him like a (masked) horse. Of course, Taichi’s in with the rest of his gimmicks, including the bell hammer stuff as commentary reminds us of what happened with Taguchi and Miho Abe earlier in the tour. Iizuka’s in too with plenty of biting all over Taguchi, before he just side-steps a hip attack and… bites Taguchi in the arse. Elgin tries to suplex Iizuka, but he instead has to reverse a double suplex effort from TAKA and Taichi before he too gets bitten by Iizuka. I think Takashi’s going for anything shiny…

Elgin bites back though, and tags take us back where we started, with Suzuki and Makabe teeing off on each other. Mounted punches in the corner and a Northern lights almost get Makabe the win, but Suzuki’s back with more shots, only to see a PK blocked as Makabe’s still got wind… enough to trade right hands with Suzuki. Eventually though, Suzuki’s able to catch Makabe with a rear naked choke as the ring fills again, and we’re back to the cheating as some rope choking from Iizuka almost led to TAKA winning with a knee to the head.

Iizuka’s back with his Iron Glove, but Elgin’s forearm saves Makabe from the funky oven glove, which quickly led to the finish as Makabe slammed TAKA before finishing him off with a King Kong knee drop. This was fine in parts, but the usual Suzuki-gun “chaos” wore thin really early. **¾

Now, will Makabe get his title shot? Makabe grabbed the title, and posed with it to incite Suzuki into the ring… and the challenge was finally accepted, I guess? English commentary didn’t seem too sure… On his way out, Suzuki falls off the walk way as he booted Tomoyuki Oka, and decided to throw some guard railings on him for good measure.

Juice Robinson, David Finlay & Toa Henare vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & Jay White
A rematch from Tuesday’s Korakuen Hall show, and another go around between Jay White and David Finlay.

In spite of that though, it was Yano and Juice who opened the match, with Yano going straight for the turnbuckle padding… which was of little use as Robinson just gave him an airplane spin. Dizziness saw Yano get punched in the wrong corner, as Ishii and Henare decided to just sod it and go after each other once again.

With those two out of the ring, it was back to Juice and Yano, but Jay White rushes in and throws Robinson to the outside, via the ring post. That one shot put the Chaos trio ahead, despite Juice’s efforts to land a standing leg lariat to Ishii… as White’s straight back in, and gets dumped into the exposed turnbuckles for his trouble.

David Finlay takes the change to have a go at White, but he’s quickly stopped with a back suplex as Finlay couldn’t really get anything off… My feed stutters a little and comes back when Henare dropped White with a spinebuster as the concept of tags seemed to get thrown out of the window, in time for Robinson to hit almost a double Bunker Buster to Ishii and Yano.

White takes plenty of shots as some triple-teaming almost put him away, before he fought away from Henare with some slaps ahead of the Blade Runner. Instead of going for the pin though, White follows up with crucifix elbows, and it’s another ref stoppage! The rocket’s definitely being fixed to Jay White, but a longer-term feud between him and Finlay may not be what the doctor ordered here. ***

Hello there New Japan surprises! Rey Mysterio appears on the big screen and challenges Jushin “Thunder” Liger to a match at the Strong Style Evolved show in the US next month. I think Liger’s nodding means a yes…

BUSHI vs. Gedo
BUSHI’s out with some super-strength shears… is Gedo’s beard the same thickness as a hedge?!

Of course, Gedo’s wearing both of the BUSHI masks he ripped off last week, like a trophy around his neck. BUSHI started by going after him in the aisle as Gedo teased throwing those masks into the crowd, but Gedo’s firmly in control as he tried to undo the mask from the off.

The beard became an easy escape point as BUSHI then went for his Brutus Beefcake clippers, instead opting to pull him to the apron for a David Starr-esque DDT through the ropes as BUSHI tried to pull the beard out, hair-by-hair. Back inside, Gedo’s Complete Shot looked to put him in place for another unmasking, despite it being a DQ if that happened. Instead though, Gedo just tied BUSHI to the ropes via the laces of his mask, trapping BUSHI on that side of the ring as the ref just watched on.

Those shears he brought with him proved useful as BUSHI was cut free, just in time to go airborne with a dropkick and a head-first tope suicida. A swinging neckbreaker gets BUSHI another near-fall from there, but Gedo’s back to the mask, and turns it into a small package for a near-fall.

We get a ref bump as Gedo shoved BUSHI’s lungblower into the official… before Gedo slapped away a mist attempt. A clear FOUL draws boos, before a superkick gets another two-count as the two looked to finish each other off. Once the Gedo Clutch was reversed, BUSHI’s able to rebound with a lungblower in the ropes for a near-fall, before the MX finally ends things. This was fine – Gedo trying every shortcut in the book was fun to see, but at the end of the day this was something that just reinforced the pecking order. ***

Afterwards, BUSHI’s looking under the ring for something… his garden shears! The referee treats him like a dog, distracting BUSHI with his masks to get rid of the shears, but something tells me BUSHI still wants the beard.

Tetsuya Naito vs. YOSHI-HASHI
We’ve a jump start as YOSHI-HASHI attacked Naito in the aisle, and the crowd are already on YOSHI-HASHI’s back here… booing when he mocked Naito’s “Tranquilo” pose.

Naito has trouble making it inside the ring, but when he’s thrown in he rolls straight back out as he trolled YOSHI-HASHI, suckering him in for some of those obligatory guard railing spots. A neckbreaker onto the apron keeps Naito ahead, as does one in the ring… but YOSHI-HASHI’s finding a way back into it, landing a running Blockbuster before pounding away on Naito in the corner.

The dropkick in the ropes gets a near-fall over Naito, but YOSHI-HASHI keeping the pace slow allowed for Naito to worm his way back in as well, landing a neckbreaker before the legsweep dropkick came up short, with YOSHI-HASHI getting up and knocking him to the floor for a somersault plancha!

They headed back up to the ramp where a Bunker Buster left Naito reeling, but he’s able to come back in with a tornado DDT and that legsweep dropkick in the corner. A scoop into a reverse DDT gets a near-fall too for Naito, only for Destino to be countered into a slam of his own from YOSHI-HASHI. Back-and-forth strikes quickly intensify from here, as YOSHI-HASHI’s Western Lariat almost gave him the relative upset win, as did a folding powerbomb, before the Butterfly Lock was applied.

Naito almost pulled himself to the ropes, but he’s pulled back into the middle of the ring before managing to get a foot there just before the ref stopped things. A top rope ‘rana puts Naito back in it, but YOSHI-HASHI’s straight back up… and straight back down from a Koppo kick and a German suplex, before Destino took him down. Naito wants it again, and sure enough a second Destino gets the job done after a match that YOSHI-HASHI had a lot of offence in, yet lacked any real urgency to proceedings. I struggled to get into this one, truth be told… ***½

What the actual hell? Taichi comes out to attack Naito from behind and drag him backstage… we’ve got a hostage situation in Osaka?!

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi vs. Will Ospreay (c)
Led into with a cat-heavy video package (I approve), this one started out like a shotgun, with Ospreay and Takahashi going for each other right from the bell.

Hiromu faked out a dive early as there we so many swings and misses that even the GIFers struggled to keep track of, before a Sasuke Special saw Ospreay miss Hiromu on the floor and met with a German suplex onto the padding. The obligatory guard rail spots saw Ospreay hurled into the railings with an overhead belly-to-belly, before Hiromu continued to go for Will’s head and neck in the ring.

Back suplexes, headscissors, and the works were thrown at Ospreay to try and weaken him some more, only for Will to catch him with a handspring enziguiri off the ropes to firmly put a pause on that offence. Ospreay’s in with kicks to keep Hiromu guessing, as the over-the-top-rope 619 almost put Will in risk for a sunset bomb before he flew around Hiromu on the floor.

A springboard forearm off the guard rails follows, as does one in the ring, before he countered an overhead belly-to-belly into a corkscrew onto a downed Hiromu as the pace started to flick from “slow” to “top gear”. Takahashi escapes a reverse DDT and delivers a pop-up powerbomb instead, following in with a German suplex to counter another handspring. Takahashi wipes out referee Red Shoes as he charged into the ropes as he set up for the sunset bomb to Ospreay on the floor. Hiromu returns to the ring to stop the ref’s count, before crashing into Ospreay with a back senton on the floor… and then the Time Bomb’s flipped out of as Ospreay finds some more in his proverbial gas tank… only to run into a huge lariat!

Hiromu tries to keep up with a wheelbarrow driver off the top, but Ospreay counters and delivers a German suplex into the turnbuckle on the way down. An Essex Destroyer DDT follows, as Will heads up top again… crushing Hiromu with an imploding 450 splash for another near-fall, only for his follow-up OsCutter to get met with Takahashi’s version instead as he went back to the neck of the champion.

We go to strikes next as the pair chop each other silly, but Hiromu’s sailed ahead… only to get caught with a Cheeky Nando’s and a spiking reverse ‘rana off the middle rope. Jesus H… and that’s not even a ONE COUNT?!

Kicks follow from both men, as Ospreay looked to hit Hiromu with his own move… but it’s turned into a Destroyer as Takahashi came within a hair’s width of the title. Takahashi pops up from a Dragon suplex then turns another OsCutter into a German suplex, only to run into a Spanish Fly as Ospreay set up for a 450 splash as Hiromu was draped across the top rope.

From there, a reverse lifting DDT gets yet another near-fall, before a beheading forearm and one final OsCutter gets the win! Holy heck that was good… a lot of uncomfortable-to-watch neck bumps, but they survived and produced yet another masterpiece. Heaven knows how many years this has taken off of their careers though… ****¼

NEVER Openweight Championship: EVIL vs. Hirooki Goto (c)
Unlike the last match, this one was a lot more measured, as EVIL and Goto stared each other down at the bell, before we burst into shoulder tackles, which Goto wins out on.

Elbows keep Goto ahead as EVIL really struggles in the opening stages, before they headed outside for… you know what. Guard rails and chairs! The ref refuses to start the count-out though, and instead EVIL’s got to take Goto back inside for some choking, which quickly gives way to chops and a back senton as moves remained few and far between.

EVIL’s taken into the corner for a spinning heel kick, before a Saito suplex almost gets a win. A clothesline and a bulldog gets EVIL back in it as the match remained tit-for-tat, with Goto dragging himself onto the apron as he tried to avoid the Darkness Falls. He’s left in place for a clothesline to the floor though once EVIL had fought free of a rear naked choke… and it’s back to the chairs as he piled them up on the floor, only for Goto to suplex him into them as EVIL was trying for the Darkness Falls.

Back inside, EVIL’s forced to fight away from an avalanche ushigoroshi, raking the eyes before pushing Goto away… and using the “string of balls” that Goto had worn to the ring to choke him with. There’s a tonne of ref abuse as Red Shoes keeps getting shoved down, but there’s no DQ threats as Goto’s back in with an ushogoroshi, before a GTR’s countered out into a Fisherman buster instead.

The pair tee off on each other with clotheslines, with Goto edging ahead again, only for EVIL to instantly rebound with Darkness Falls for a near-fall. Another lariat yields a similar result, before Goto headbutts away EVIL. From there, it’s into a series of counters as Goto landed a GTR from the ropes, before attempted EVIL STOs and GTRs eventually crumbled, with Goto landing the GTR for the win. This was a bit of a letdown for me – the first half of this match did absolutely nothing for me, and it felt to be a too much of a change of pace from the prior match. ***½

IWGP Heavyweight Championship: SANADA vs. Kazuchika Okada (c)
As STRIGGA on Twitter pointed out, this involved two of the guys TNA kinda dropped the ball on in years gone by. The Great Sanada vs. the photographer Okato!

SANADA grounded Okada from the off, going for the head and arm of the champion, as commentary noted that Gedo wasn’t at ringside with Okada for a change. Okada’s able to sneak ahead when he forces SANADA to bridge back from a wristlock, before a hiptoss takes him onto the apron, where he’s joined as Okada ends up getting charged into the ring post.

From the apron, SANADA throws Okada into the guard rails, before taking him up the walk way for a piledriver! They’re back inside as a cravat is used to restrain Okada, ahead of an elbow and a standing moonsault as SANADA chalked up another near-fall… before another standing moonsault is turned into a low dropkick as Okada looked to be faltering. A flapjack helps Okada stem the tide, as he returns with back elbows and a spiking DDT to pick up a near-fall. On the outside, SANADA’s taken into the guard rails then booted over them, before a draping DDT off the railings left SANADA in a heap. Okada rolled SANADA back in then played around with him, booting SANADA in the head as the Osaka crowd booed in disapproval.

Okada’s neckbreaker slam got the crowd in SANADA’s favour, as a top rope elbow led to the Rainmaker pose… but just like that SANADA’s able to land the double leapfrog dropkick and a plancha as the crowd sensed an unlikely title change. Another plancha follows, as does a springboard missile dropkick, but Okada’s up at two, and is able to roll out of a Skull End into a wheelbarrow for a very close near-fall.

A missed dropkick from Okada costs him as SANADA traps him in a Skull End, but Okada’s able to collapse towards the ropes after clubbing his way free. It’s SANADA’s turn to toy with Okada, using boots to the face, but the strike battle is won out by the challenger, who sneaks in the TKO for a very close fall. Another Skull End follows, but Okada counters out into a cobra clutch, before SANADA escaped and moonsaulted his way into a Skull End!

Okada looked to be getting ready to tap, but instead he tried to roll free, only to get his body grapevined again as SANADA clung onto the hold! Eventually Okada dragged his way free before rolling away from a top rope moonsault… a Tiger suplex from SANADA almost causes the shock, so he heads up top with a Skull End on the top rope?!

Almost a GTR-like clothesline off the top brings Okada down, before we SANADA countered a Rainmaker with one of his own as those close calls kept on coming! Okada reverses a finisher next, trapping SANADA in a Skull End, before landing a pair of his signature dropkicks for good measure. A tombstone follows, before a Rainmaker’s countered into a Skull End via a Destino-like flip… can SANADA do it?! Okada almost goes out, but SANADA lets go for a moonsault… and Okada kicks out JUST in time!

Another moonsault misses as Okada gets his knees up, but his follow-up Rainmaker can’t lead to a cover as Okada collapses… holding onto the wrist though! A second Rainmaker eventually happens, before a third is ducked as SANADA reverses tombstones and gets caught with rolling Germans instead. ALL THE COUNTERS lead to a spin-out tombstone, before one last Rainmaker confirmed the win. Wow. On paper, SANADA didn’t have much chance, but this had to be a match that pushes him closer into that proverbial top five. Okada’s win will ensure he’s well over 600 days as champion when his next defence comes, and if you’re not thinking he’s one of the best, at least in the modern era, then you’re doing it wrong. ****½

After the match, Okada announced that he wanted to take part in the New Japan Cup – something champions have typically been excluded from – before calling out Will Ospreay for a match at the New Japan anniversary show next month. Hey, maybe Jay White’s words are starting to get through to him?

The New Beginning in Osaka was a decent, if not underwhelming show in my mind. Sure, there’s business reasons for splitting one card across three dates, but it just led to a lot of watered-down shows… and when one of your marquee matches underperforms like Goto/EVIL did, it drags the rest down massively. Still, the two IWGP singles title matches are worth every second of your time… and there’s the overhanging question of “what’s Taichi done with Naito?”