As the old song goes: oh, what a night.
It seems like Osaka gets all the fun. Easily the most exciting line-up of the New Beginning tour, the New Beginning in Osaka was a hell of a way to kick off the post-Wrestle Kingdom NJPW season proper. We were promised what might literally be a death match between Jon Moxley and Minoru Suzuki; a double title defence against the nefarious KENTA; and most importantly of all, Roppongi 3k’s first Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Title defence. Oh, and there was blood. A lot of blood.
Of course, we’ve got the usual multi-man tag shenanigans to get through first. Ikimashou, friends!
Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Manabu Nakanishi def. Ryusuke Taguchi, Toa Henare, Tomoaki Honma and Togi Makabe
I mean. It was what it was, wasn’t it? Big men throwing big men at other big men. Chops aplenty. Lots of shouting. At some point, Taguchi hit someone with his butt. You’ve got to let the New Japan Dad Squad do their thing every now and again; it keeps them feeling young. It does feel quite strange not to see Liger in the ring, though. A Satoshi Kojima victory is always something to be happy about though, and that lariat of his is pretty damn impressive, so it feels a little petty to complain about any of this.
Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) def. Suzuki Gun (El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru) IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Title Match
Bit weird to have the main event on second, but who am I to argue? Roppongi 3K have a long history of falling at the first hurdle when it comes to mounting title defences, so it was not without trepidation that I approached this match. SHO and YOH’s charisma, ability and inventiveness speaks for itself; El Desperado is no slouch either. Kanemaru, on the other hand, almost always feels like the weak link in these matches, though his heel shenanigans are never less than entertaining. Some very nice storytelling in this match, with SHO’s knee sold as a significant weak spot, allowing R3K to do what they do best: triumph against the odds. And, by extension, allowing Despy and Kanemaru to do what they do best: being total dicks.
Ultimately, Kanemaru fell victim to R3K’s new double-team finisher, the highly effective Strong X. That’s one successful defence down, and hopefully many more to come.
The heel/face dynamic these teams continually whip up is highly effective, but you have to wonder if it’s time for something new. Something fresh. The junior division, much like the heavyweight tag division, is feeling a tad stale these days. Fortunately, the Mega Coaches are here to make the save. Taguchi came to the ring after the match and incited R3K coach Rocky Romero to challenge his boys for the titles. Will experience win out over shiny brilliance? Only time will tell.
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, Juice Robinson and David Finlay def. Tanga Loa, Tama Tonga, Yujiro Takahashi and Chase Owens
I’m going to level with you here: I don’t care much for Finjuice or whatever slightly creepy moniker they’re going by. I don’t care much for GOD either, or Chase Owens, for what it’s worth. And the most interesting thing about Yujiro Takahashi is Pieter. So it was with a preconceived notion of my prospective enjoyment that I approached this largely adequate eight-man tag. It was fine, I suppose. If you like these teams, you’ll like this match. Probably.
Kazuchika Okada and Will Ospreay def. Dangerous Tekkers (Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr)
While nowhere near as grand a showcase for our beloved Holy Emperor as his one-on-one with Okada, I stand firmly on the side of ‘Taichi is Good, Actually’. And this match proves my point. The team of ZSJ and Taichi are such delightful shitheads that you can’t help but love to hate them. On the other side, there’s Ospreay and Okada, both legit dyed-in-the-wool babyfaces despite their swaggering arrogance. All of which meant there was a whole lot of ego in the ring.
This was mostly about the separate dynamics between Okada and Taichi, and Ospreay and ZSJ respectively. It’s a nice way of building to the Rev Pro British Heavyweight Championship match scheduled on 14th Feb. It’s also a clever way to build interest in Taichi; the underexplored rivalry between golden boy Okada and Suzuki-Gun’s black sheep makes for something fresh and interesting. Taichi getting a chance to show that he actually can wrestle is a nice bonus. A Rainmaker took the Holy Emperor down, leaving plenty of time for ZSJ and Ospreay to bitch at one another.
Jay White def. SANADA
I’m beginning to think Jay White stores all his power in his beard, because the scragglier it gets, the stronger he seems to become. This was a decent enough match with a solid narrative: Jay White dictates the pace, while SANADA struggles to overcome. Whether or not this match was a snoozefest will depend entirely on your opinion on SANADA – if you don’t care much for him, you’re probably going to have a bad time here.
Certainly, White was at his heeling best, but there are those who think SANADA lacks the charisma to play the ostensible babyface. And I can’t deny a certain nostalgic longing for the give-no-fucks Cold Skull SANADA of yore. Still, there was nothing egregiously wrong with this match, and it’s worth watching for the last five minutes, in which White visibly struggles to capitalise.
Hiromu Takahashi def. Ryu Lee – IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship Match
This is the one you all came here for, right? I’m not sure if it’ll ever be possible to watch these two men wrestle without one’s heart lodged firmly in one’s throat. If Hiromu bears any lingering psychological scars from his horrific injury, they weren’t on display here. The multiple false Phoenix Plex spots were clearly designed to terrify, and they more than did the job.
Ryu Lee (formerly Dragon Lee) and Hiromu have always had stunning chemistry, and despite the lingering anxiety this 20+ minute dance was as sublime and ridiculous as you would hope. Perhaps the highlight of the match (and indeed, the night) was the five minutes of solid back-and-forth chopping. A gruelling ordeal recalling the epic chop battle between Kenta Kobashi and Kensuke Sasaki. Hiromu ended things with a Time Bomb, and the lingering ghosts of 2018 were exorcised. If you only watch one match from New Beginning in Osaka, make it this one.
Jon Moxley def. Minoru Suzuki – IWGP United States Championship Match
….I know I just said that if you only watch one match from this show, it should be Hiromu/Lee. But. You should watch this one too.
This entire match was basically Mox and MiSu going to town on one another with everything in reaching distance, and loving every minute of it. Arms were trapped in chairs. Suzuki went through a table and laughed about it. ZSJ climbed Moxley like an angry monkey. A Young Lion got yeeted over the guardrail. A good time was had by everyone, and if you watch it, you’ll have a good time too. I guarantee it.
Tetsuya Naito def. KENTA – IWGP Heavyweight Championship & IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match
Naito has traded his white magician’s outfit for a funky fur-trimmed black number because when you’re the double champ, you have to look the part.
It’s a difficult ask, to follow on from two absolutely stellar matches. And it would be fair to suggest that this match suffered a little due to the sheer quality of what came before. But that’s not to say it wasn’t good. KENTA is brutal, and therefore an excellent foil for the beloved Naito. You don’t want to see Naito suffer. You want to see him triumph.
But suffering is what KENTA delivered, and Naito’s split-open forehead gushing ungodly quantities of blood seems like the perfect motif for this match. Driving Naito’s head into the exposed turnbuckle and continuing to assault the already blooded champ with a volley of slaps sums up KENTA as a competitor. In years to come, Naito’s crimson face beneath the brim of his LIJ cap will likely become an iconic image.
Despite the apparent severity of the injury – Naito would go on to require eight staples – a Destino took down the Bullet Club upstart. Thirty minutes of solidly entertaining wrestling seems like a good way to kick off Naito’s reign as a defending champion.
NJPW will be back on 19th February with the Tiger Hattori Retirement Event at the historic Korakuen Hall.
All images courtesy of NJPW1972.com