Less than a month after winning it, Hirooki Goto had a stern test for his NEVER Openweight title, as he defended in the New Beginning in Sapporo against Shingo!

It’s the first of two nights in Hokkaido’s Hokkai Kitayell, and with Rocky on the US leg of the tour, we’ve got English commentary from the (new) old guard of Kevin Kelly, Chris Charlton and Gino Gambino.

Bullet Club (El Phantasmo & Tiger Mask) vs. Tiger Mask & Yuya Uemura
The former IWGP junior tag champions start the show, and there’s something about Tiger Mask’s theme that makes me miss Liger.

Uemura and ELP start us off, as the Rev Pro cruiserweight champion looked to take down Uemura with shoulder tackles… eventually doing so after an eye rake. There’s a quick receipt from Uemura though, before Phantasmo pulled him down by the hair… and here come the back rakes! A Tree of Woe follows as Uemura’s prepped for the Gas Pedal, before a grounded headlock continued to wear down Uemura. Finally Uemura makes the tag in as Tiger Mask leaps in with a crossbody, before a knee bar on ELP was quickly stomped apart by Ishimori. A crucifix pin from Tiger Mask gets a similar result, before Uemura literally threw himself at Ishimori, looking to keep him outside the ring.

ELP absorbs a Tiger Bomb as Uemura looks to roll Phantasmo into a Boston crab. It doesn’t work as Uemura goes for the capture suplex, with Ishimori again breaking up the pin before Phantasmo cracked the Young Lion with a superkick. A superkick sandwich drops Uemura for a near-fall, but he’s able to counter a Bloody Cross with a small package as Uemura’s flash pins looked to get the upset… but he’s stopped with a leaping knee as the Yes Lock forces a submission. Solid effort from Uemura here, but it’s the same-old, same-old as far as results go. ***

Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Manabu Nakanishi & Yota Tsuji vs. Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma & Toa Henare
The Nakanishi retirement tour rolls on as he’s into his final three weeks as an active wrestler…

Henare and Nakanishi start us off, as commentary poked fun at Gino Gambino again. Henare perhaps goes for a Torture Rack too early on Nakanishi, who shoved him away for a shoulder tackle before Honma came in to work on Nakanishi’s legs. It quickly ends in the ropes, so in comes Makabe for a leg splitter… then another leg lock as Nakanishi had to drag himself to the ropes once more. Nakanishi’s held in the corner as Henare chops him, before Nakanishi finally got something in as he speared Honma. Tenzan tags in to try and clear house, but he’s just as immobile with those freaky ankles. He gives it a go though, throwing Mongolian and regular chops to Honma, before a brainbuster dropped Honma for a near-fall.

Honma tries to block a Mongolian chop, eventually coming back with a diving Kokeshi to Tenzan as Makabe tags in. Mounted punches follow, as did a Mountain bomb from Tenzan, while Nakanishi off-camera looked to be in some degree of trouble. Tsuji and Henare are in to blast through each other, but Tsuji countered a Samoan drop into a sunset flip and a Boston crab… something he was able to hold on as Nakanishi and Tenzan held their opponents in an Argentine backbreaker and an Anaconda Vise respectively… but Henare got to the ropes. Henare’s right back though as the ring fills, then clears, just in time for Henare to land a Toa Bottom that put away Tsuji for the win. Decent stuff, no matter how immobile some guys looked. Nakanishi’s busting a gut to get to his retirement, and you have to appreciate that. **¾

Will Ospreay, Ryusuke Taguchi & Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) vs. Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr., El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & DOUKI)
We’ve got Ospreay vs. ZSJ for the Rev Pro title tomorrow… but first, the obligatory warm-up tag!

We’ve got a jump start, with everyone pairing up as you’d expect. Ospreay manages to surprise Sabre with a springboard forearm off the barriers, while YOH missed a dropkick in the ring, allowing Kanemaru to take over. Taguchi and SHO come in to help as the make-shift coach directs traffic towards Kanemaru, only for DOUKI to break things up as he went for the hip attacks. Yeah, it turns out DOUKI’s not forgotten the attempted steel pole sodomy.

We’re back on the outside as Sabre tears at Ospreay’s arms on the floor, while SHO got tossed into the barriers. Back inside again, SHO and Desperado trade shots, while DOUKI came in to slam SHO some more. An eye rake takes SHO into the wrong corner as Sabre tags in to join in with triple-teaming. SHO saves himself, getting to the ropes as Sabre applied some headscissors, but he had to fight on to try and escape a guillotine before eventually spearing Sabre. Ospreay tags in as he looked to take aim at Sabre, clocking him with a handspring enziguiri for a near-fall. A Cheeky Nando’s is blocked as Sabre tires up Ospreay in a mounted Cobra Twist, before he went back in for another wacky hold as Ospreay looked for a leapfrog. Eventually Ospreay’s back with another enziguiri, as tags bring in DOUKI and Taguchi… but DOUKI’s not alone as Kanemaru and Desperado help triple-team, on the way to a dropkick-assisted side suplex.

A springboard stomp from DOUKI nearly puts Taguchi away, before DOUKI leapt in with the Daybreak springboard DDT for a near-fall. Suplex de la Luna looks to follow, but Taguchi wheelbarrows him for a near-fall, before Sabre and Ospreay snuck in to spark a Parade of Moves… culminating in a pescado from YOH to Kanemaru and Desperado, while DOUKI tries to use the steel pipe in the ring. Taguchi ducks and hits and enziguiri before a front suplex led to a hard landing for DOUKI, as a Bummer-Ye gets a near-fall. Dodon quickly follows, and that’s all – DOUKI takes the fall, and his losing run stretches even further. ***¼

Ryu Lee & Robbie Eagles vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI)
Hiromu Takahashi’s next and potential future challengers are teaming up here, and of course we open with Hiromu and Ryu Lee chopping each other silly.

Lee fakes out a chop to land a spin kick, before he cartwheeled out of a ‘rana… then met Hiromu with a dropkick in mid-leapfrog. On the outside, Hiromu breaks a gate open as he’s thrown into the railings, before a double-team from Eagles and Lee led to a near-fall. Takahashi gets back in, tripping Eagles into the corner while Hiromu made a beeline for Ryu Lee… chopping him in the crowd while BUSHI handled Eagles. Back in the ring, Hiromu puts the boots to Eagles, as the LIJ pair were comfortably in control of the match. Well, until Ryu Lee returned and crashed into Hiromu with the Shibata-ish dropkick… only for Hiromu to reply with a wheelbarrow German. That’s shrugged off as a snap German awaited for Hiromu, who eventually got back with an overhead belly-to-belly into the corner as yet another rapid-fire series got pulses racing.

Eagles and BUSHI tag in, with the latter taking a knee breaker as the Aussie looked to soften him… aiding things with a Turbo Backpack as the Ron Miller special followed… Hiromu looked for the save, but got taken outside for a tope con giro from Lee, while BUSHI was left with no choice but to tap. Those exchanges between Lee and Hiromu were fantastic, but don’t sleep on Eagles – he’s getting the decisions, and you’d be daft to think his win in Hiromu’s comeback match was an accident. ***¾

Bullet Club (KENTA & Jay White) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito & SANADA)
Hey look, a warm-up for a very divisive match next week! Oh, and White/SANADA too!

They teased us with Naito vs. White to start, but instead KENTA tags in… and rolls outside as we stall. And gives a donation to the New Japan swear jar. Naito takes inspiration from that, before a lot of potty mouth gets us to White and SANADA. Gedo pops up to distract SANADA, which works as White finally gives the match something. A trip from Gedo just irritates SANADA, who’s having to watch three people… and gets caught out when KENTA attacks from behind. That gave Jay White an opening as the Bullet Club began to double-team SANADA in their corner. Stomps from KENTA allow him to mock the crowd’s cries for SANADA… and while this isn’t holding my attention, it’s very effective.

KENTA’s in to punt through SANADA’s back, before the mocking back heel just served to wind up Sapporo some more. Naito looked thoroughly unimpressed from the apron, before SANADA hit a missile dropkick… then tagged Naito in as he went for KENTA with a ‘rana and a low dropkick. A neckbreaker followed, as did the leglock that forces KENTA into the ropes for a break. KENTA blocks Gloria, elbowing Naito into the corner before a scoop slam left Naito on the rocks. A Kane-style flying clothesline gets KENTA a near-fall, before KENTA shrugged off some forearms from Naito, then took him into the ropes for a snap draping DDT that gets a two-count. The momentum looked to stay with KENTA as he teases a Go 2 Sleep, but instead had to make do with a folding German suplex before Naito replied with a spinebuster.

Tags get us back to SANADA and White, with the latter being sent outside with a low dropkick ahead of a pescado from SANADA… back inside, a Paradise lock looked to follow, but White pushes away… then did the same from a TKO before pulling SANADA down by the hair. SANADA’s caught with a back suplex as White pushed on, landing a Blade Buster for a near-fall. The pace increases a little when KENTA and Naito rushed in, but booted each other out, before SANADA moonsaults into a Skull End on White. Gedo distracts again, but gets the rope booted into his crotch before a struggle between a Blade Runner and a SKull End ended with SANADA getting pushed into a chairshot from Gedo, as a roll-up gets the job done. Eh. This did nothing for me – they had some decent flashes in the middle of the match, but the pace was way too onerous for my tastes. White/SANADA looks to be a lot better than I feared, and on this evidence, Naito/KENTA could be a worry. **¾

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & Taichi) vs. Kazuchika Okada & Jon Moxley
Build for two matches – one tomorrow, one next week… and it’s safe to say more people are salivating over Moxley/Suzuki.

Moxley and Okada rush the ring – and there’s a team you’d be mad for thinking could be a thing a year ago! Taichi takes Okada to the outside while Suzuki and Moxley traded forearms, with Moxley – wearing an eye-patch to sell an AEW story – looked to be absolutely loving it. Even if he wasn’t necessarily on top. Moxley flips off Suzuki and takes a battering before tags bring in Taichi and eventually Okada. A neckbreaker from Okada barely gets a one-count, before he misses a slingshot senton as Taichi surprised the former champion with a Saito suplex. Dangerous T indeed. Meanwhile Moxley’s taken into the guard rails as Suzuki was hellbent on destruction, dropping a guard rail on Moxley before tossing chairs onto him.

Taichi and Okara return to the ring, as Taichi was grounding Okada with a neck crank… at the back of the arena, Moxley and Suzuki duel with guard rails… and I’ll be honest, that’s by far the part of this match I’m more invested in, despite Taichi trying to submit Okada in the ring with a Cobra Twist. Eventually Moxley and Suzuki returned to the ring, in time to see Taichi rip off the trousers… but the buzzsaw kick misses as Okada had to come back with a ‘rana instead. Okada’s really having trouble getting into a groove here, but he does land a neckbreaker slam as tags took us to Moxley and Suzuki for reals, and they pick up where they left off in the crowd. Short-range knees from Moxley and a clothesline has Suzuki down ahead of a backbreaker for a near-fall, before a modified cloverleaf, then a STF had Suzuki on the back foot.

Suzuki bites his way free, so Moxley nibbles too as the eye patch and bandage is a-slipping… That just riled Moxley, who snatched the timekeeper’s table, teasing a suplex from the ring to the floor… but Suzuki counters with a hanging armbar. A roll-through armbreaker followed as Suzuki looked for the stoppage, but Moxley got free and looked to put away Suzuki with a Death Rider… only for Taichi to rake the eyes. Okada’s in for the save, but he takes another backdrop driver as a Parade of Moves breaks out. It settles down, if you can call it that, with elbows from Moxley and Suzuki. This is very much my thing. Kick, wham, Death Rider? No, Suzuki blocks and goes in for a rear naked choke, before he finally lands a Gotch Piledriver… and that’s a rare loss for Jon Moxley! That’s got to go down as an upset – personally I had Moxley pinning Taichi – but can history repeat itself next week? A cracker of an undercard tag, and we have Messrs. Suzuki and Moxley to thank! ***¾

Post-match, Taichi chokes out Okada with camera cables as we realise ringing a bell does NOTHING. Eventually out come the Iron Fingers, but Okada ducks the Funky Oven Glove and finds a second wind to dropkick away Taichi… only for Zack Sabre Jr. to make the save as Taichi looked to be taking a Rainmaker, and Taichi eventually jabs Okada with the oven glove, before Will Ospreay finally found his way to ringside. He’s quickly brushed aside with a Zack Driver, as Suzuki-gun stood tall to close this part of the show… but only once Taichi had dropped Okada with a Black Memphisto on the ramp… then made sure of things with a Stretch Plum.

EVIL vs. Tomohiro Ishii
This is going to be absolutely fantastic. Two big lads knocking every shade of the brown stuff out of each other, is it?

We get going with shoulder tackles as the pair clatter into each other… that’s one-upped with forearms and elbows, before a misdirection clothesline attempt led to EVIL charging down Ishii. They head outside, with Ishii taking the barriers, before he rebounded into EVIL with a shoulder charge. Ishii surprisingly gets a chair, which he uses on EVIL… with no repercussions before EVIL just punched the chair back at him. Yeah, EVIL makes Ishii wear the chair, before a chinlock back in the ring wore Ishii down some more. Some mocking boots from EVIL just annoy Ishii, who chops back, then tried to haul EVIL up with a suplex, only for both men to sandbag each other.

Eventually EVIL gets hoisted up as Ishii lands the suplex, then took EVIL into the corner with some very high chops, aiming more for the throat than the chest, before EVIL took control again, going outside with some chairs. Batter up! Back inside, a back suplex from Ishii takes us over the ten minute mark, before EVIL went for the misdirection superkick. It’s blocked, so EVIL instead uses the ref for a Magic Killer instead. A push-down stomp in the ropes is next for EVIL, before a blocked enziguiri led to him taking a German suplex.

Ishii looks to follow, and lands a superplex in doing so, before an exchange of forearms left EVIL on his knees. A folding powerbomb’s next for a near-fall, but EVIL rebounds with a rising clothesline that bought him some time. Ishii’s right back in, charging through EVIL with a spinning heel kick and a clothesline for a near-fall, and now this is beginning to bubble away nicely. EVIL tries to hit a suplex, but Ishii’s sandbagging again, coming back with a flurry of elbows before EVIL decks him with a discus clothesline for a near-fall. EVIL goes back in for a superplex, going to the top rope as well as he bounces Ishii to the mat for yet another two-count, before Ishii escaped Everything is EVIL… only to walk into Darkness Falls.

A second Everything is EVIL is countered with a DDT and a clothesline from Ishii, who found a second wind to land an enziguiri and a sliding lariat. It’s almost enough to put EVIL down, but a snap half-nelson suplex leaves Ishii on jelly legs… as did a second, but EVIL couldn’t capitalise. A Dragon suplex from Ishii had some effect… but EVIL’s quickly back with a headbutt, then a lariat that almost won him the match. We’re still going! Ishii keeps escaping Everything is EVIL, coming back with a headbutt before he hits a lariat of his own for a two-count on EVIL, before a sheer-drop brainbuster finally gets the job done. This felt like it simmered for a little too long, but the finishing stretch really got me going here. Another loss for EVIL perhaps raises fresh questions about his direction, but in the end this was a hard fought win in a cracker of a match. ****¼

NEVER Openweight Championship: Shingo Takagi vs. Hirooki Goto (c)
Can Goto hold onto the title, or will he slip back into the oh-so-familiar disappointments of the past?

We start with the big lads shoulder tackles, but they go a little pacier as Goto tried to out-do Shingo, swapping up the shoulder tackles for an elbow before he grounded him with a chinlock. Shingo quickly snaps back with a left hand and a clothesline, before we headed outside as Goto was sent into the guard railed, popped onto the apron, then DDT’d on the floor in quick succession. Back inside, a slingshot stomp keeps Goto down by the ropes, before a suplex earned a rather nonchalant two-count for Takagi. A Noshigami’s blocked as Goto came back with a suplex for a two-count of his own, before a rear naked choke looked to be broken up as Shingo fell back… but Goto reapplies it quickly. Shingo manages to escape and land Noshigami in short order, but he doesn’t go for a cover, instead following up with a sliding lariat before Goto came back with almost a desperation ushigoroshi.

The pair trade snap Saito suplexes before a clothesline from Goto nearly led to the successful defence. Shingo’s got a clothesline of his own, almost like a Pumping Bomber, before Shingo took Goto up top for an avalanche death valley driver, dumping the champion for another near-fall. They’re back up top as Goto nails a sunset bomb, but Shingo shimmies to the ropes to avoid a GTR… and instead found himself in place for a draping GYR for a near-fall. Kicks from Goto are eventually caught, with Shingo putting him in the ropes for a GTR of his own, before a Pumping Bomber spins Goto for another close-call. A Last of the Dragon’s escaped as Goto instead struggled in with a Shouten Kai that looked for the win, but instead forced another late kick-out from the challenger.

We get clonking headbutts from both men, which thankfully downgraded into elbows… but Goto turned into a Terminator as he walked through them, before some sucker punches from Shingo forced more headbutts out of Goto. A reverse GTR followed, before Shingo escaped a reverse GTR to land a Made in Japan… and we’re still SO CLOSE but so far from the fall! Last of the Dragons follows, and that’s enough! That’s twice that Goto’s lost this title on the first defence, but Shingo had to bring his best as he left Sapporo with his first singles title in New Japan. Now… imagine the potential challengers… least of all SHO, who had a very brief staredown with Shingo as he left. YES PLEASE! ****½

The first night of the New Beginning in Sapporo was a card that looked decent enough – and delivered without having the peaks and valleys these two-night cards have had a tendency to produce. While the one of the two matches could have found an extra gear – in my opinion anyway – they absolutely delivered as New Japan started to get going again after what’s felt like a long break after WrestleKingdom. Now, will Shingo have a lengthy reign with the NEVER title – away from the clutches of Goto, whose recent run has been more valleys than peaks?