Clap crowds are over, and just in time for the first of two nights of the New Beginning in Sapporo, headlined with Tetsuya Naito taking on Shota Umino.
Great O-Khan submitted Oskar Leube in 7:25 (***)
Ren Narita, El Desperado, Minoru Suzuki & Ryohei Oiwa submitted Dick Togo, SHO, Yujiro Takahashi & EVIL in 9:36 (**¾)
Kosei Fujita, Shane Haste, Mikey Nicholls & Zack Sabre Jr. submitted Yuto Nakashima, YOSHI-HASHI, Hirooki Goto & Tomohiro Ishii in 11:28 (***½)
Master Wato, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Hikuleo & Tama Tonga pinned Taiji Ishimori, KENTA, El Phantasmo & Jay White in 12:48 (**¾)
Shingo Takagi, Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA & BUSHI pinned Ryusuke Taguchi, YOH, Toru Yano & Kazuchika Okada in 11:02 (***¼)
Francesco Akira & TJP pinned DOUKI & Yoshinobu Kanemaru in 18:24 to retain the IWGP Junior Heavyweight tag team championships (****¼)
Will Ospreay pinned Taichi in 22:47 (****½)
Tetsuya Naito pinned Shota Umino in 32:11 (***¼)
With the bans on cheering having been lifted across Japan – as well as restrictions on attendances – we can finally wave goodbye to clap crowds. That might just spark some fresh interest, after what was a cracker of a WrestleKingdom…
We’re coming live from the Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center Hokkai Kitayell – on a slight delay as I’m more than a little curious about some of the matches on either end of the card here. English commentary comes from Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton, live in Sapporo…
Oskar Leube vs. Great O-Khan
I must say, I don’t rate Oskar’s chances against the Champion of the British (™ the late Lanny Poffo)…
The early exchanges see O-Khan grab hold of a side headlock as he took Leube to the mat for a quick two-count. Oskar takes O-Khan to the ropes, chopping him on the break before a front kick knocked O-Khan down. O-Khan switches around as he faked out a trip and locked in a head-and-arm choke on the German, who made good use of his gangly frame to get to the ropes. Oskar’s choked in the ropes after the referee separated them, but he’s able to mount a comeback, slamming O-Khan off the ropes before forearms took O-Khan into the corner. A legdrop lands for a near-fall, as did a powerslam, before Oskar went for the Boston crab… the ropes save O-Khan this time, but Oskar’s quickly cut off with a Judo throw as he came off the ropes, before the Sheep Killer forced the stoppage. ***
Ren Narita, Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado & Ryohei Oiwa vs. House of Torture (EVIL, SHO, Yujiro Takahashi & Dick Togo)
Narita’s gotten an unlikely partnership with Minoru Suzuki and El Desperado after the events of New Year Dash – even if it’s not exactly been made official yet. That match may not even be for titles, as the House of Torture are acting like they’ve retired the NEVER trios titles.
There’s the obligatory House of Torture jump start to get us going, while Minoru Suzuki’s attempts to overcome it were stunted by him being outnumbered by SHO and Yujiro. A right hand takes care of SHO before Suzuki tagged in Oiwa – with Ren Narita not trusting a tag, it seemed. Oiwa’s able to take down Yujiro with a bodyslam for a two-count, but Yujiro’s nibbling turns things around ahead of him hotshotting Oiwa into the ropes. Things spill outside again, as Dick Togo took shots at Oiwa in the ring, following up with a fist drop for a two-count. EVIL tries his luck with a myriad of covers on Oiwa, but to no avail as SHO came in… and dispatched Minoru Suzuki… who ran and grabbed a chair that he had designs on integrating into SHO.
The referee stops Suzuki, as SHO knocks him off the apron… Oiwa tries to fight back, but his dropkick gets nothing but air. Second time’s the charm though as El Desperado gets a tag in and instantly cleared the opposite apron. Yujiro tries to cut him off, but got the ropes kicked into him as SHO’s bounced with a sidewalk slam for a near-fall. SHO recovered, using the referee for misdirection ahead of a spear, only for Desperado to come back with a spear. EVIL stops Desperado tagging out briefly, before a side Russian legsweep got him free… it’s Ren Narita who gets the tag after Suzuki gave him the floor, and it’s all Ren here, with kicks to EVIL ahead of a Cobra Twist attempt. A handful of hair helps EVIL escape ahead of the cheating abdominal stretch, leading to Narita getting cornered by the entire House, as a Fisherman buster from EVIL drew in everyone to break up the pin.
The ring clears out, but the referee’s distracted as Dick Togo uses his garotte… Suzuki breaks it up and snapmared Togo for a PK from Narita, who then added a Kanuki suplex and a Cobra Twist to get the submission. **¾
TMDK (Zack Sabre Jr., Shane Haste, Mikey Nicholls & Kosei Fujita) vs. Bishamon (Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI), Tomohiro Ishii & Yuto Nakashima
TMDK are defending or challenging for titles tomorrow, so we’ve got this obligatory preview tag…
We get going with YOSHI-HASHI and Mikey Nicholls, but Goto’s in early to charge down Mikey before Shane Haste ran in and got drummed on. Ishii helps charge down Sabre, while Nakashima took care of Fujita as TMDK were on the back foot early on. A quick turnaround sees Haste and Nicholls land a back suplex/neckbreaker on Goto, before Nakashima tried his damndest to fight off all four of TMDK. Eventually Nakashima’s overwhelmed and cleared away as Sabre began to stretch Goto on the mat. Fujita takes over with a similar toe hold, with Zack helping him with that on-the-job training. YOSHI-HASHI tries to break it up, but gets a toe hold from Fujita too, before Nicholls and Haste resumed their focus on Goto.
Goto manages to break free with a bulldog on Haste, before tags gave us a preview of Sabre/Ishii on Sunday. Sabre wrings Ishii’s wrist before a barrage of shoulder tackles wipe out TMDK. Zack avoids a sliding lariat, but not another shoulder tackle as Ishii’s follow-up German suplex left the NJPW World TV champion laying. YOSHI-HASHI and Nicholls tag back in from there, trading blows ahead of a clothesline from Nicholls… YOSHI-HASHI avoids a Tagbuster as Goto makes the save, then helped with a double-team leading to a side Russian legsweep/Headhunter combo. It begins a Parade of Moves as a superkick-aided ushigoroshi took care of Haste, before Nicholls kicked away a Shoto, then dropped Goto with a death valley driver instead.
Tags bring us to Fujita and Nakashima, trading forearms ahead of a dropick from Fujita… Nakashima’s back body drop flings Fujita into the air, as a follow-up Boston crab gets kicked apart by Sabre. Nakashima chops and kicks Fujita back to the mat for a two-count, only for Fujita to return the favour with a dropkick, before a backslide nearly won it. Fujita stays on Nakashima, rolling him to the mat for a double wristlock… and that’s enough to get the win as we’re 3-for-3 in submissions today. The Fujita/ZSJ pairing’s working well here – and looks to be part of that fast-tracking that New Japan reportedly want from their Young Lions. ***½
Bullet Club (Jay White, El Phantasmo, KENTA & Taiji Ishimori) vs. Hikuleo, Tama Tonga, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Master Wato
Another preview tag ahead of next week – with the Loser Leaves Japan match between Hikuleo and Jay White getting a lot of curiosity for the obvious reason.
Of course, Jay White’s teases of starting against Hikuleo were for nought, as tags meant it was El Phantasmo and Tama Tonga opening the match. Or did we? Nobody wants to fight, with ELP claiming a dead leg, so it’s KENTA and Hiroshi Tanahashi starting… only for Tanahashi to get caught from behind as the Bullet Club swarmed and emptied the ring. Tanahashi’s taken to the Bullet Club corner as he’s choked across the bottom rope, then thrown into everyone’s boots. Back rakes from ELP led to KENTA coming in, and the eventual Tanahashi comeback that ends with an eye rake. Tags give us Hikuleo and White, previewing their outing next week… the big man looks to pull ahead, lariating White for a two-count, before White baited Hikuleo into a Complete Shot.
ELP and Tama Tonga return for their exchanges, including a clothesline out of the corner from Tama, then a crossbody from Phantasmo, who then had to block a Gun Stun. Tama slides under a Sudden Death attempt, as the pair proceed to trade rights before tags got us to Ishimori and Master Wato. Wato’s dropkick caught Ishimori in the face, as did a flying uppercut, before a Parade of Moves led to Jay White getting goozled over the top rope to the outside. ELP joins in, but eats a Tongan Twist before a Mistica into a jack-knife cover from Master Wato stole the win. I enjoyed the flash finish to continue the “Master Wato has Ishimori’s number” story, but this felt like prime fast-forward material I’m afraid. **¾
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi, Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA & BUSHI) vs. Kazuchika Okada, YOH, Toru Yano & Ryusuke Taguchi
After Shingo retained his KOPW belt last week, he’s on track to take on Kazuchika Okada next week…
This one opens off with YOH and Hiromu, previewing their junior title match on Sunday, trading blows before Hiromu was tripped up. He’s able to take YOH into the corner for a clothesline, only to get caught with a neckbreaker as tags took us to Toru Yano attempting to swat SANADA with a corner pad, only to get caught in a Paradise Lock instead. Freeing Yano, SANADA tags out to Shingo Takagi, who traps Yano in the ropes as Hiromu and BUSHI took their turn on Yano’s arm. SANADA’s back, but Yano pulls him down by the hair before tags took us to Okada and Shingo. Okada runs wild, but got clobbered by a clothesline from Shingo, then some more in the corners ahead of a back suplex.
Okada kicks out at two from that, but replies to strikes from Shingo with an uppercut before he whiffed on a dropkick. A back body drop and a sit-down pin nearly stole the win there for Okada, ahead of a neckbreaker slam out of the corner. Taguchi tags in to take care of Shingo with the Three Amigos and a Bummer-Ye as he had an uncharacteristic run of good form (compared to his recent past!) here… leading to Oh My Garankle on Shingo. Switching it up, Taguchi looks for Dodon, but gets taken to the corner as LIJ swarm him, leading to Shingo’s Pumping Bomber for a near-fall. YOH breaks it up as another Parade of Moves led to a roll-up from Taguchi for a near-fall, before Shingo kicked out of a backslide.
BUSHI’s tope takes care of Okada on the outside, allowing Shingo to get a measure of revenge on Taguchi as the Last of the Dragon shut the door on Taguchi’s chances. This got good towards the end with Taguchi looking for that unlikely win, but in the end it was a serviceable win for LIJ here. ***¼
After the match, YOH and Hiromu got into it at ringside, with both men getting yeeted into the guard rails before YOH grabbed a knee bar on Hiromu. There’s your obvious weakness going into the title match on Sunday then!
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Just 4 Guys (DOUKI & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) vs. United Empire (TJP & Francesco Akira) (c)
It’s tempting to just say “Just 2 Guys,” but until they’ve got customised shirts for all occasions, I’ll just leave it looking weird! DOUKI and Kanemaru come in having beaten the tag champions during last year’s Super Junior Tag League…
TJP and Kanemaru get this one going with arm wringers and headscissors, leading to TJP handstanding his way free as he finger-wagged Kanemaru. A kick to the knee has TJP hobbling, but he shrugs it off and caught Kanemaru with a corkscrew back senton as the champions looked to pull ahead. Akira’s in to take Kanemaru to the ropes, but he’s sent outside into the clutches of DOUKI as the challengers turned things around, lading to a tope suicida from DOUKI to TJP. A second tope from DOUKI was even wilder, aiming for Akira as the match stayed on the floor, with Kanemaru driving TJP’s knee into the ground.
Back inside, Kanemaru and DOUKI stomp away on TJP’s knee, while a low dropkick from Kanemaru continued the focus. TJP’s able to evade DOUKI in the ropes as Akira took over with an Asai moonsault. Akira tags in after that, staying on DOUKI before tagging TJP back in for an elevated back senton. A deathlock from TJP snapped back on DOUKI’s legs ahead of a Muta lock that Kanemaru quickly came in to stomp apart. Akira’s back with a Tarantula to DOUKI, before a low dropkick got DOUKI free… and bought him time to tag in Kanemaru, who went back to TJP’s knee. A British Fall from Kanemaru looked to set up for a moonsault, but that’s cut-off as Akira leapt off of TJP’s back for a dropkick to the challengers. Another crack at a Figure Four sees Kanemaru get cradled by TJP for a near-fall, while the cameras totally miss Akira going after DOUKI on the outside.
Meanwhile, TJP misses a Mamba Splash, allowing Kanemaru to finally lock in that Figure Four. TJP withstands it and dragged himself to the ropes to break the hold, before the ring filled up… it led to DOUKI nearly losing to the Alley Oop, before the Leaning Tower on DOUKI fell apart as TJP’s knee gave out. Akira tries again, but ends up taking out Kanemaru with a missile dropkick instead before a Fireplex and jack-knife cradle double-team almost put DOUKI away. TJP’s knee gives again as he went for his half of a pair of diving knees… Akira rolls him to the corner and tagged himself in only for DOUKI to roll him into the Italian Stretch Number 32. Kanemaru restrains TJP as the DOUKI CHOKEY almost won it.
Rolling out of the DOUKI CHOKEY, Akira ends up getting caught with the Doton-no-Jutsu – the Gory neckbreaker – before Kanemaru’s dropkick left Akira prone for another moonsault. This time it lands, but DOUKI’s legal as a Henkei Doton-no-Jutsu (Gory neckbreaker with a hint of a Bladerunner) was broken up. A Daybreak’s next on Akira, but there’s a narrow kickout as the champions clawed onto their gold!
Suplex de la Luna looks to follow, but Akira flips free, then rolled up for a DDT as TJP returned to help with a reverse DDT/stomp combo. Kanemaru breaks up that pin as it remained super heated, with Kanemaru’s knee breaker being avoided as TJP took him outside for a huge plancha… while Akira’s Speedfire and a Nova Fireball (Meteora to the back of the head) proved to be just enough. My word, that was a breathless finish to a real cracker of a match that just kept building – and one I’d suspected the United Empire lads would have lost… but that’s their fourth defence as Just 4 Guys have to wait for their gold. ****¼
Taichi vs. Will Ospreay
These two have had three prior singles meetings – with Taichi holding the edge, having won in 2017’s Best of the Super Junior, then again in Altrincham (of all places) just over a year later. Ospreay’s sole win came in 2018 in a number one contender’s match for the NEVER title…
The two shot out of the blocks here, booting each other off the ropes before a missed enziguiri from Taichi almost earned him a Hidden Blade. A hotshot and a boot from Ospreay takes Taichi outside, where he’s met with a plancha, before a double stomp to the back of the head on the apron kept Ospreay in front. Ospreay chops down Taichi as he badmouthed the hometown hero, before an Irish whip bounced Taichi into the corner. A chinlock keeps Taichi grounded, ahead of what looked like an early crack at a Storm Breaker… which Taichi back body drops out of. A gamengiri meets Ospreay in the corner, as did some clotheslines… while Ospreay’s attempt at a German suplex was countered with an overhead kick to the shoulder.
An Axe Bomber out of nowhere stops Ospreay’s threatened comeback, before a handspring enziguiri took down Taichi. Ospreay’s springboard forearm keeps him on track before Taichi threatened to counter an OsCutter into a Dangerous backdrop driver… eventually doing so on the second attempt. Kawada-style kicks from Ospreay earn him receipts from Taichi as they went back-and-forth on those, before Ospreay tried to switch it up with some chops. Taichi retaliated with kicks as the pair were left reeling… and it’s back to the Kawada kicks as a head kick from Taichi had Ospreay sunk. An attempted Last Ride’s escaped as Ospreay instead lands a hook kick, before the Hakuho elbow stopped a Hidden Blade in its tracks as both men were hell-bent on stopping the other from landing their Big Movez. Another attempt at an OsCutter’s stopped by way of an Axe Bomber to the back of the head, as a gamengiri then dropped Ospreay, who now looked to be in trouble.
Francesco Akira makes his way down to ringside as Ospreay tried to shrug things off… turning a Storm Breaker almost into a Tiger Driver. An OsCutter followed for a two-count, before a second one off the top was stopped… leading to Taichi hitting a Ganso Bomb in retaliation for Ospreay’s attempt to block the Last Ride. Taichi adds another Axe Bomber to the back of the head as Ospreay’s almost put away, while a dropkick kept Taichi on track, as a Dangerous Backdrop Hold put him even closer to the W. Taichi measures up Ospreay for another head kick, but Ospreay beats him to the punch… err, kick, before an Avalanche OsCutter missed. The Gedo clutch nearly wins it for Taichi, but he’s met with a Hidden Blade almost instantly as Ospreay managed to stop Taichi from getting back into a groove. Another Storm Breaker’s almost countered into the Black Mephisto from Taichi, but Ospreay slips out for a Dangerous Backdrop… then a leaping Hidden Blade that still didn’t get the job done.
From there, Ospreay tees up for the Hidden Blade once more, but Taichi got to his feet… so it’s forearms instead, until Taichi waffled Ospreay with a shot of his own. A rolling elbow sinks Taichi in response, as the referee threatened to wave it off… instead giving us a standing ten-count for, erm, reasons. Taichi pulls himself up using the referee, but was instantly met with a Hidden Blade and a Storm Breaker as Ospreay finally nudged this one over the line. The forced weirdness with the standing ten-count aside, this was a hell of a match as Ospreay got back on track after that WrestleKingdom loss. ****½
Shota Umino vs. Tetsuya Naito
Umino’s been going after some big scalps since his return to New Japan – but is yet to pick up that big win… and with Naito weeks away from taking on Keiji Mutoh in his Mutoh’s retirement match, I’d be stunned if Shota got the win here.
Once everyone’s overly-elaborate entrance gear was shed, we get going with commentary openly debating whether Shota would get any favourable decisions from his dad… Naito looks for a toe hold early on, but that ended in the ropes as Shota returned with a side headlock. A handful of hair breaks it up, as Naito’s own side headlock gets shoved off… leading to a missed dropkick from Shota ahead of a stand-off. Shota takes Naito outside, but can’t quite follow-up as Naito wandered away… giving Shota the opportunity to mock Naito’s pose instead as we crossed the five-minutes mark. Naito returns, but can’t avoid a diving uppercut as Shota picked up a two-count, before an eye rake had Shota by the ropes. More hair pulling leads to Naito throwing Shota outside, with a baseball slide dropkick taking Umino into the guard rails… the first of several trips.
Naito pulls up Umino by the guard rails, then dropped him neck-first over the bars, which led to somewhat of a count-out tease that Shota beat at 17. Naito pounces with the neckscissors, which end in the ropes… before Naito took Shota to the corner for the Combinacion Cabron. A cravat keeps Umino down, while clubbing forearms eventually were broken free of as headscissors and a dropkick got Shota free – but still kept the match barely out of first gear. Shota tries to change the pace with a back elbow and a low dropkick, while a Fisherman suplex bridges up for a near-fall. A tornado DDT’s next from Umino, before he telegraphed a Death Rider and got charged into the corner… with Naito then returning with an armdrag and another side headlock. Naito’s neckbreaker turns the tide some more, as the pair trade blows… until a dropkick from Shota took Naito to the outside.
A flip senton from Umino wipes out Naito in the aisle, before a missile dropkick back inside sent Naito flying for another two-count. A STF followed, but again Naito gets to the ropes as Shota got a ticking off from his dad for not breaking. Shota keeps it on the mat for some hammer elbows before Naito cut him off with a swinging DDT, before the Pluma Blanca continued to keep this match at a slow pace. The ropes save Shota, who was alert enough to elbow away the set-up for a Destino, before he Rolled the Dice on Naito… and again. A lifting reverse DDT gets a solid two-count for Shota, as Naito then found a way in, leading to Gloria for a near-fall after a couple of kicks had rocked Umino. Somehow we’re 25 minutes in, as I’m aghast at just how this is lasting so long… and right on cue, we’re hitting Destino attempts.
Umino catches a Destino attempt, turning it into a package tombstone slam, or “his version of the Bastard Driver.” I guess the “Knows His Father, Driver”? A Jig ‘n’ Tonic lands from Shota for a near-fall, as he then headed into the corner for the running flip neckbreaker that still only got a two-count… finally he’s pushing the pace, only to get caught with Valentia as he went for the Death Rider. Naito throws some elbows at Shota, preparing for the inevitable… Shota roars back, but barely got anything back from the crowd as more elbows left Shota in a heap. A Destino’s blocked as Umino snapped back with a Death Rider… an attempt at an elevated one ended with Naito crumbling underneath him before Shota hit it at the second attempt for a near-fall. Another Death Rider’s escaped, as Naito charged in with a short Destino, before a wind-up Destino after the kick-out finally put this one to bed. This wasn’t a bad match, but it didn’t meet the bar that many expect New Japan main events to hit. Hardly a bust for Shota, but after the two Ospreay losses, you feel that he needs to get a win over a big name sharpish – or else end up falling down the pecking order. ***¼
It’s going to take a while for crowds to get used to being able to cheer again – particularly after years of regulations around that sort of thing… Hokkaido were far from silent, which helped in the undercard outings, but if you were expecting a switch to flick and crowds to be super vocal all the time, then you’ll want to temper your expectations. Skip the chaff of the undercard unless you really want to see preview tags, and perhaps question that call to give Umino and Naito half an hour in a spotlight position. These “one big card split over three events” were sometimes a slog before covid and clap crowds, and that still holds up today…