New Japan stayed in Sapporo for a second night as Suzuki-gun challenged Los Ingobernables de Japon for a hat trick of titles!

The venue’s still the Hokkai Kitayell in Sapporo for the first half of this year’s stop for the New Beginning. Kevin Kelly and Andy Simmonz are on commentary. It must be said, Andy’s really settled into his groove pretty quickly on this tour, and if things worked out, I wouldn’t be against him being more of a regular. It’s a nice (??) and early 6am start time in the UK for this, so if we can avoid the midcard lull of night one, that’d be great.

Yota Tsuji vs. Toa Henare
Don’t worry Tsuji-san, nobody saw that slip…

Henare started out strong here, taking Tsuji into the ropes with some knees before the Young Lion switched place… and threw a chop. Oh boy. Another one of those saw Henare throw back in kind, before Tsuji escaped from a headlock takedown. Forearms helped Tsuji take down Henare with a shoulder tackle, but he’s too soon in trying for a bodyslam as Henare blocks and hits one of his own. More chops from Henare takes down Tsuji for a two-count, before he took his opponent from corner-to-corner for a clothesline ahead of a Samoan drop. Tsuji responds with a bodyslam to stop Henare’s efforts, then a dropkick before he rolled over the New Zealander into a Boston crab, but Henare’s able to get to the ropes with ease.

Tsuji runs into a back elbow before Henare’s spear tackle took him down into the corner, with some big knees keeping him there. A retaliatory spear from Tsuji works, as he began his latest comeback… which quickly descended into a chop battle that a Henare headbutt ended, as a lariat gets a near-fall, before a uranage put Tsuji away. Good fire from Tsuji, but in the end he wasn’t able to push Henare enough, as he continued to pick up undercard wins. ***

Ayato Yoshida & Shota Umino vs. Manabu Nakanishi & Tiger Mask
Something tells me Yoshida and Umino might not get their second win here…

Tiger Mask starts this one off catching Umino with a kick to the upper arm, before Umino comes back with a waistlock and some forearms, only to run into some more kicks. He does manage to take down Tiger Mask with a shoulder tackle, before both men tagged out, with Yoshida trying his luck with some shoulder tackles. Yeah, Yoshida ends up falling to Nakanishi, before he rolled away from a knee drop… then ran into a spear, as that really seems to be the move du jour. A simple body slams dumps Yoshida as Tiger Mask returned to start chopping Yoshida from above, as Yoshida was just getting pelted with strikes from both men. An enziguiri manages to drop Nakanishi as Yoshida tagged out to Umino, who tried far too early for a bodyslam as Nakanishi puts on the brakes.

Nakanishi easily slammed, then splashes Umino for a two-count, before more chops pin Umino into the corner. Umino hits back with a surprise slam, as both men tagged out, with Yoshida hitting first en route to knocking down Tiger Mask with a forearm. Another slam, this time from Yoshida, keeps Tiger Mask down, as does a single-leg dropkick, but Tiger’s up at two. Yoshida traps Tiger Mask in a sleeper hold, dragging him down to the mat as Umino… lost Nakanishi, who came across and broke up the hold. Umino recovers to land a missile dropkick to Nakanishi, before Yoshida gets caught in a knee bar in the middle of the ring… but he’s able to drag his way to the ropes to save himself. From there, Tiger Mask tries for a Tiger Driver, which he lands at the second attempt… except Umino sped into the ring to break it up!

Umino and Nakanishi head outside, which meant that there was nobody to save Yoshida from an avalanche butterfly suplex, and that’s enough for the win. That was good stuff – and I liked how Yoshida needed to be finished from the top rope, showing progression among the Young Lion. **¾

Suzuki-gun (Takashi Iizuka & TAKA Michinoku) vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Ren Narita
Tenzan’s tagging with Ren Narita, who he’s called his favourite of the Young Lions… meanwhile, it’s good to see Iizuka’s not taking his impending retirement lightly, as he’s getting his cardio in by touring the crowd on his way to the ring!

Before the bell, Tenzan got the mic and dared Iizuka to “wake up”, seemingly trying to calm him down before retirement. It doesn’t work as the match starts with Tenzan getting taken into the crowd, with Iizuka using a chair on his former tag team partner. There’s similar treatment for Narita too, but he and TAKA end up back in the ring with TAKA poking Narita in the eye. Narita nails a belly-to-belly for an early near-fall, before a Boston crab’s stopped with Taka scurrying into the ropes. After some assistance from Iizuka, TAKA hits a big boot before Tenzan’s sent into the guard rails, then back into the crowd (or at least, placed gently in the crowd!) It meant that Tenzan couldn’t save Narita from some gnawing at the hands of Iizuka… nor himself, when Iizuka dragged himself to the outside as he sank his teeth into Tenzan.

TAKA tags back in, but just kicks out Narita’s shin before taking him into the corner for a step-up knee. That’s good for a two-count, as another knee to Narita nearly ended things. Eventually, Narita’s back with a dropkick to stop TAKA, but TAKA’s back to his feet first… and into a suplex as Narita manages to tag out! Tenzan doesn’t have much luck with a brainbuster as TAKA cuts him off with an enziguiri, before a tag’s made to Iizuka, who takes advantage of a big boot as he picks up a two-count. Iizuka looks for the Iron Glove, but Narita’s dropkicks put a stop to that as Tenzan hits back with Mongolian chops. A Mountain Bomb drops him for a near-fall, before TAKA kicks away a moonsault attempt from Tenzan… all while slipping that funky oven glove to Iizuka, who uses it on Tenzan for the DQ. Ah well, they’re building up to something with Tenzan and Iizuka for the retirement, but it’s safe to say that Iizuka’s not changing anything before he retires… **½

Post-match Iizuka gets the mic, as the crowd oohed thinking he’d speak. But instead he just wraps the mic cable around Tenzan’s neck and hangs him with it.

Ryusuke Taguchi, Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma & Toru Yano vs. Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori, Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) & Yujiro Takahashi)
The “problem” with these tours where you give away a title match early on is that you usually end up with more of the same match after the initial pay-off. Wasted motion, perhaps? Still, at least this is building to the Taguchi/Ishimori junior title match next Monday.

You know the score here. Tama Tonga’s conflicted, thinking he’s a good guy. At least he’s not had a comedy bang on the head to make him this way. We start with Ishimori against Taguchi, who sorely needs near gear judging by how the lettering’s hanging off his arse, but he does at least get an early advantage with a shoulder tackle takedown on Ishimori, before a hip attack sent him outside.

Ishimori powders away, so Taguchi taunts him with a Sailor Boys routine, before Ishimori tagged in Tama Tonga. Yeah, his team mates are trying to goad him into being a bad guy again, as he initially offered a handshake to Tomoaki Honma. When that wasn’t forthcoming, Tama tags out to Yujiro, who bites his way free of a headlock before they headed outside, as Yujiro whipped Honma into the guard rails, giving Andy Simmonz another bruise no doubt. Honma found himself isolated in the Bullet Club corner, not helped by repeated elbow drops from Tanga Loa before Tama Tonga was again prodded by his team mates. He’s in with a snap suplex on Honma for a near-fall, before getting a similar result from a dropkick (which he applauded Honma for kicking out from). Yujiro’s back in for a big boot in the ropes, before Honma finally got free and make a tag out to Makabe, who’s right in with mounted punches to Yujiro.

An eye rake from Yujiro stops a Northern lights as the Bullet Club team stormed the ring ahead of a double dropkick to Makabe for a near-fall. Taguchi’s back in next with hip attacks to Yujiro, before he had to slip out of a reverse DDT with Yujiro instead landing a low dropkick as we’re back to Ishimori and Taguchi. Ishimori uses his speed to catch Taguchi with a springboard seated senton, following up with running knees in the corner before a tombstone gutbuster’s countered into an ankle lock! Tanga Loa’s in to break up the hold, with Yano dumping him to the outside as Tama Tonga stood and watched the anarchy on the outside. Another ankle lock ends with Ishimori rolling Taguchi into a Kendo stick shot from Jado for a near-fall, before tags finally bring Toru Yano into play. Off comes the corner pad, but Yano’s whipped into the exposed corner as Tama berates his tag partner for taking advantage. Tama gets unwillingly whipped into Yano before helping out with a back suplex/neckbreaker combo for a near-fall…

Jado slips in the Kendo stick, but Tama disarms Tanga Loa… and with Jado still distracting the referee, Yano hits a low blow to both of the Guerrillas before rolling up Tanga Loa for the win. I’m not at all sure where the Tama story’s heading, especially against the backdrop of the Bullet Club dominating elsewhere, but it’s different (which is almost always a good thing). **¾

Bullet Club (Jay White, Bad Luck Fale & Chase Owens) vs. Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi & YOSHI-HASHI
Usually, cynical me would say that the additions of Owens and YOSHI-HASHI to this match mean that both sides have pin-eaters – but after yesterday, when Chase made Tanahashi tap to an inverted figure four (quickly dubbed the TTO – Tanahashi Tapped Out), I’m not so sure we need them!

Tanahashi’s right knee was the big question mark going into this, with the chairshots in Korakuen and the TTO clearly weakening it. Okada and Chase Owens start us off, but of course it’s a ruse as Chase just served as a distraction for Fale to attack Okada from behind. Okada’s able to pull Chase into harm’s way, as Owens took several splashes in the corner before a DDT dumped Fale out of the ring. Okada, Tanahashi and YOSHI-HASHI work well to keep Owens down, but they still won’t do the old sushi pose with him Aw. Jay White tags in next, as does Hiroshi Tanahashi, who instantly goes for forearms to White, before a palm strike sends White into the corner. White reverses an Irish whip before he chops Tanahashi’s knee in the ropes to stop a crossbody out of the corner, which was the cue for the match to spill outside, where White focused on that injured knee. There’s also another Irish whip as Tanahashi’s sent into the guard rails, while Okada’s double-teamed by Fale and Owens on the other side of the arena.

Tanahashi manages to make it back to the ring, but it’s become a virtual lion’s den as he’s taken back into the Bullet Club corner as the beatdown continued, with Owens trying to torque away on the bad knee some more. White’s in to work a single leg crab on Tanahashi, which YOSHI-HASHI tried in vain to break up… Tanahashi eventually fights back, scoring with a Dragon screw before Okada came in to pick up the pieces. There’s a sliding back elbow to Owens, who then took a flapjack for a two-count, before Fale came in to put the brakes on things. Okada can’t quite slam Fale, before he slipped out of a retaliatory effort… then lands a slam of his own! An attempted tombstone was very unwise, as Fale blocks it before he’s taken for a back body drop as Okada worked his way up to an elbow off the top… following up with the Rainmaker pose before the same move’s countered with a Samoan drop. Tags take us to YOSHI-HASHI and Jay White, with YOSHI getting some revenge on the beating White laid on him last year, scoring with a Head Hunter and a Bunker Buster for a two-count.

Chops from YOSHI-HASHI led to him getting tripped by Gedo as the tables turn again, leading to White landing a death valley driver for a near-fall. Okada makes the save as White sets up a Blade Runner, sparking a Parade of Moves including a Pounce from Fale and a Tanahashi Slingblade, before a Western lariat from YOSHI-HASHI decks White! A Fisherman buster is next… but White narrowly kicks out in time, before he blocked a senton from YOSHI-HASHI with his knees, as he comes right back with a sleeper suplex. White signals for the Blade Runner, but instead he looked at Tanahashi and caught YOSHI-HASHI with the TTO… which led to the delayed victory. Hey, I’m all for the way they debut new finishers like this – much like how Okada added the cobra clutch last year. This was a really good outing, which continued the build to Osaka… can Jay White really do it? Can he win the big one when the stakes are at their highest? ***½

Post-match, Gedo gets slapped down by Tanahashi before White kicks away Tana’s leg, leading to a Blade Runner as White again leaves him laying.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI & Shingo Takagi) (c)
The build-up to this has been all about masks, with BUSHI having lost his hood repeatedly in the shows beforehand…

Shingo and Kanemaru start the match, with Kanemaru throwing the first shots to try and weaken Shingo… but he needs to grab some hair as the pair counter away from each other’s early stuff, before a spinning powerslam left Kanemaru down. BUSHI and Desperado follow, trying to unmask each other again before BUSHI found his own mark with a dropkick as he left Despy down by the ropes. A tag brings Shingo back in to follow-up with knees to the midsection and a suplex, before BUSHI returned to help with a double team for a near-fall. Desperado turns the tables as he low bridges BUSHI to the outside, where Kanemaru took him into the guard rails ahead of a step-up legdrop on the railings. We’ve more mask work as Shingo has to headbutt Desperado away, but Kanemaru’s low dropkick puts a stop to that as all four men head outside again, this time with Kanemaru catching Shingo in the guard rails before BUSHI’s thrown into the crowd.

They’re back in the ring as BUSHI tries to chop through Desperado, only to end up having to hit back with a flying ‘rana before Shingo’s brought back in to blast Kanemaru with a bodyslam… but Shingo’s knee is causing problems as he’s clearly hobbling. Still, at least he’s able to hit a Flatliner/DDT combo before he blocked a spear from Desperado. At the second try, Shingo’s felled by the spear, before BUSHI came in to help drop Desperado with a back cracker/spinebuster combo for another near-fall. Kanemaru stops the Rebellion – wheelbarrow lungblower combo – as Suzuki-gun turn the tables again, with Desperado coming close with Guitarra de Muerta, before BUSHI blocks the Pinche Loco. Back-and-forth palm strikes ensue, with BUSHI edging ahead with a swinging Fisherman buster before Shingo had to outlast Kanemaru’s offence before the referee was used to block a Pumping Bomber.

Kanemaru’s back with a satellite DDT before his scoop slam set up for a moonsault to Shingo that almost wins Suzuki-gun the titles back. He heads up top and waits for a Deep Impact, but Shingo blocks it and turns it into an overhead belly-to-belly, before he dumped Kanemaru on his head with a release German suplex. Ow. Getting back to his feet, Kanemaru ducks a Pumping Bomber but ends up taking a death valley driver for a near-fall, before the Last of the Dragon’s countered into a sunset flip for a near-fall. The Noshigami (Gory bomb) is good for a near-fall, but Desperado pulls out the referee at two as he then grabbed a chair and used it on Shingo…

The chair stays live as Desperado takes the chair, then a Pumping Bomber and a tope suicida from BUSHI, as Shingo used the chair to block the whisky mist… BUSHI’s black mist blinds Kanemaru, but he still manages to kick out of a Pumping Bomber as the challengers continued to fight on, but not for much longer as Rebellion sealed the first defence. This threatened to descend into the usual Suzuki-gun bollocks, but this was a cracking junior tag, as many rightfully predicted. Shingo carried the load for his team, but the bad left knee may well become a target in later defences, as LIJ won while still establishing a weakness.

A weakness that El Desperado took advantage of as he kicked Shingo in the knee, before BUSHI whipped off Desperado’s mask, throwing it into the crowd. Paybacks, and all that… ****

IWGP Tag Team Championship: Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr.) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & SANADA) (c)
Yeah, we get a jump start… with Suzuki charging into SANADA and taking him outside as he tried to choke him with his own title belt!

SANADA quickly turns it around though, whipping Suzuki hard into the guard rails while EVIL and Sabre jostled for an octopus stretch. EVIL hiptossed free during the frenetic start, before tagging SANADA in, with Sabre and SANADA keeping the pace high. A missed dropkick opened the door for a PK for ZSJ, but SANADA catches it and tries to trap Zack in a Paradise Lock… only for Sabre to toy with him and get himself free. Suzuki interferes with a hanging armbar, as all four men end up outside once again, with EVIL getting thrown into the crows as Suzuki dumps chairs and barricades onto him. Back in the ring, Sabre wrenches away on SANADA’s shoulder, rolling him into a pinning attempt as Andy Simmons makes sure to tell us that Suzuki-gun beat Trent Seven and Tyler Bate. Oh, how conspiracy theorists reckon THAT match started the UK round of the contract wars!

A big forearm from Suzuki decks SANADA, who was fighting a virtual handicap match here as EVIL was down and out on the outside, trapped in a hold by Sabre as SANADA had to scoot to the ropes to break an armbar. Suzuki keeps EVIL at bay with a hanging armbar as Sabre tied SANADA up in knots. SANADA gets free via the ropes, but he can’t mount any offence as his uppercuts hurt to throw… a Dragon screw proves more effective as SANADA dealt with Sabre and Suzuki before finally getting a tag in to EVIL.

EVIL chops and slams Sabre before barging through him with a shoulder tackle, as a Fisherman buster dropped Sabre for a two-count. Zack’s right back with a neck twist, only for him to run into a lariat from EVIL… but that momentum doesn’t last long as Sabre’s overhead kick to the arm has him back in front, as Suzuki tagged in to continue the work. There’s a big boot and a PK to EVIL for a two-count, only for EVIL to hit a thrust kick with the aid of the referee, as SANADA took over… only for a missile dropkick to miss as some double-teaming quickly took hold. Snapmares and duelling PKs batter SANADA for a two-count, before EVIL returned to turn some tables as the champions were suddenly back on top.

Suzuki’s taken up for a Magic Killer, but Sabre breaks it up as the challengers find their way into a pair of submissions, with Suzuki’s knee bar almost forcing a submission before SANADA dove into the ropes. SANADA’s got to escape a Gotch piledriver as we get a TKO instead as EVIL dumped Sabre with Darkness Falls at the same time… leaving Suzuki open for a Magic Killer for a near-fall. From there, SANADA locks on a Skull End as Sabre’s dealt with with Everything is EVIL… only for Suzuki to roll through as he tried again for a Gotch Piledriver, which is then countered out of as a Magic Killer and a SANADA moonsault secured the win. I wasn’t a fan of the sudden end given how much peril LIJ was in throughout the match, but then again these were good first defences for LIJ to get on the board. Tellingly, it was Suzuki who ate the fall, so don’t you go thinking New Japan’s cooling on Zack Sabre Jr… ***¾

IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Taichi vs. Tetsuya Naito (c)
LIJ are 2-0 tonight, and I’ll be honest, this is the match I went into the show fearing. Taichi’s run as a heavyweight has been laden with high profile goose eggs, while memories of that awful Suzuki/Naito match is still burned into my brain.

During his entrance, Naito’s attacked from behind by Takashi Iizuka, who came out with… a ladder?! Well, that was unexpected. Taichi motions like he knew nothing of this, but the pre-show videos talked about an incident in the 80s that heavily mirrored this (Chris Charlton stepping up on Twitter to fill in my lack of historical knowledge here: “Taichi was referring to the ‘Sapporo terrorist incident’ here when Yoshiaki Fujiwara brutalised Riki Choshu ahead of his title match with Tatsumi Fujinami, which ended up being cancelled. In a way that put Fujiwara on his path to UWF and return as a psychopathic maniac.”)

On the ramp, Taichi drops Naito with the Black Mephisto (Air Raid Crash), and if they have to forfeit the match then Taichi wins the belt by default. His two favourite words. Medics check on Naito as Taichi declared the match was over and ordered the crowd to go home. Naito’s helped to his feet, with Shota Umino giving him a piggy back to the ring… so they want to pin the man who can’t move? Nope, they instead carry him through ringside and to the back, while Taichi mouthed off at Togi Makabe, who was doing Japanese commentary. Things get weird as Taichi just hangs around at ringside, before the crowd’s told that they’re checking on Naito. More delay! Red Shoes Unno and New Japan chairman Naoki Sugabayashi head to ringside as at least we’re not getting Harold Meij in the role, with everyone conferring. Red Shoes commandeers the Intercontinental title belt, as BUSHI eventually appears, helping a staggering Naito back to the ring. Trainers try in vain to stop him, but Naito rolls into the ring and demands to start things.

Finally the match starts, but Naito begins with strikes that Taichi laughs off, easily taking Naito down as he perhaps took the champion lightly. There’s barely anything to Naito’s forearms, as the match looked to be Taichi’s to lose. A dropkick from Naito took both men down, but he was clearly hurting more, as evidenced when Taichi got up first and nonchalantly threw a pair of kicks to Naito, who’s down and out on the mat again. Taichi’s calling for a stoppage, but it’s a ruse as Naito burst into life with a reverse DDT/backbreaker combo and a low dropkick, before he followed up with an attempted Combinacion Cabron that Taichi blocked by Axe Bomber-ing Naito onto the apron. A table’s pulled out from under the ring by Taichi, who had clear designs on Saito suplexing Naito through it, before an attempted Black Memphisto off the apron was also blocked, as Naito instead piledrove Taichi off the apron and through the wood!

Somehow Naito’s up first and back into the ring as Taichi barely broke the count himself, allowing Naito to hit him with a snap ‘rana off the top for a near-fall. Taichi’s back with an enziguiri before the backdrop driver left Naito in a heap. Off come the trousers, as Naito’s folded up again with an Axe bomber before Taichi… borrowed SANADA’s Skull End? He holds it about as well as SANADA does, and after my feed craps out for a moment, we’re back with Taichi elbowing away Gloria, only to get caught with a tornado DDT by Naito. Gloria’s next, with Naito planting Taichi for a near-fall, before an attempt at Destino’s stopped when Iizuka headed back out with a chair for the distraction. BUSHI’s laid out with the chair, so Naito heads out and takes Iizuka into the guard railings as Iizuka and BUSHI brawl to the back. Taichi grabs the belt in among all of this, but Naito ducks the belt shot and lands an enziguiri instead before he grabbed Taichi’s mic stand.

Naito almost takes off Taichi’s head with the stand, before Taichi grabbed onto Naito’s leg to stop a second shot. It doesn’t work. Taichi grabs a chair and uses it on Naito as the mic stand flew into the crowd, before a second chairshot popped out the seat and left Naito in a heap. Another backdrop driver follows, but Naito kicks out at two, prompting another crack at the Black Memphisto, but Naito countered it into a tornado reverse DDT instead. Back on his feet, Naito runs in for a Destino, but Taichi blocks it and hits a low blow behind the ref’s back for another near-fall.

A superkick’s next from Taichi for a near-fall, before he looked for a Last Ride… but Naito slips out and hits a low blow before Destino… gets a two-count?! Uh oh. Another Destino’s blocked, as Taichi’s counter is countered into a reverse ‘rana to stack up the challenger, as a Jackhammer gets a near-fall, before one final Destino secured the win. Dangerous T tried with all his might, but in the end Naito outlasted him and almost surely shoved Taichi out of the title picture. I have no idea how to “rate” this. As a match, it was hamstrung from the off with the storyline of Naito being laid out and injured… and when they got going, they worked well into that particular angle, but if you were still looking for your big “Dangerous T” breakout moment, well, keep on looking because if you took out the Iizuka run-in this was dangerously close to our latest Taichi goose egg. **¾

Post-match, BUSHI, Shingo, SANADA and EVIL finally emerge to celebrate. Where were they when their leader needed help?! Naito closes out the show with the customary promo, promising to be the first man to hold the IWGP heavyweight and Intercontinental titles at the same time as the show ended with the stream-ruining tickertape cannons!

With the three title matches, night two on paper was the stronger of the two cards in Sapporo – and yes, it delivered. Both of the tag title matches lived up to their expectations, as I have a funny feeling that the main event will split decisions across the board. Story-wise, it told a heck of a story, but bell-to-bell, I can see a lot of people absolutely loathing it. Meanwhile, the runaway freight train that is Jay White’s challenge for Hiroshi Tanahashi looks almost nailed-on to have a bad ending in just over a week’s time. That is, from Tana’s perspective…