New Japan’s double New Beginning PPV may prove to be more than just an experiment.
After selling out Hiroshima (5,040 fans paid) two days earlier with IWGP Intercontinental champion Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shisuke Nakamura on top — the second New Beginning show rolled into Osaka headlined by IWGP Heavyweight champ Kazuchika Okada defending against Hirooki Goto.
New Japan feels they have two true top drawing stars in Tanahashi and Okada, and they’ve done a fantastic job establishing the Intercontinental title as the strongest secondary title in wrestling since the heyday of the WWF Intercontinental & NWA United Stated titles. As a result, we’ve got not only this double PPV concept, but in his post match presser in Hiroshima, Tanahashi brought up the idea of a full blown brand extension. No other details were available as of this writing, but if that is truly the plan, hopefully they’ve hopefully taken notes as to what has worked, and more importantly what hasn’t worked, for the WWE’s split brands.
If the dual New Beginning shows are any indication, we aren’t going to get the absolutely loaded shows of 2012 & 2013. Instead of cards loaded with six, seven, or even eight major matches, the big singles matches and title bouts are now split over the course of two shows, with the usual tag team or multi man tag filler type bouts filling out the cards. While this hurts the overall quality of the shows (neither first half of either New Beginning show was anything to write home about, and below the standard of recent vintage New Japan major shows), one advantage is that all of the big matches in theory should now be given sufficient time. For example, in the past an IWGP Tag Team Title match or IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title bout may have been the 3rd or 4th match out of the gate, but now more often than not these types of matches will be positioned in the second half of the show or even as semi main events.
Osaka saw four of the seven title matches that were split between the two shows, in addition to the NWA World Tag Team #1 contender bout.
In a production change, instead of muting during some entrances, they are now dubbing in generic music. This works much better.
1. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Title: Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson (c) vs. KUSHIDA & Alex Shelley – This was given more time than usual, and was the best junior tag match in ages. Despite the longer match, they still worked a hard, fast pace from bell to bell. This was very much like a full sprint PWG style match. Both teams did all of their key stuff, and none of it felt rushed of forced like what tends to happen when matches like this get shorted on time. Bucks retained with More Bang For Your Buck. ***1/2
2. Katsuyori Shibata vs. YOSHI-HASHI – The story here was YOSHI-HASHI wanting to prove himself after taking the fall to Shibata in a tag match on the Hiroshima show. He attacked before the bell and took Shibata to the outside. It didn’t take long for Shibata to take control, and all YH got after that was a brief comeback that got cut off pretty quickly. Shibata won a short match with the penalty kick. This did not have the fire or energy of Shibata’s match against Tomoaki Honma from December, which told the same story a thousand times better. After possibly being the most forgettable guy on the roster for all of 2012 & 2013, YH was off to a good start this year, but this match was flat. *1/2
3. Special 6 Man Tag Match: Minoru Suzuki, Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. vs. Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows & Tama Tonga – Suzuki-gun won a basic match when KES hit the Killer Bomb on Tonga. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing special. Davey Boy Smith Jr did his long delayed vertical suplex on Gallows again, which never fails to look very impressive. **1/4
4. Special Tag Match: Togi Makabe & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Prince Devitt & Bad Luck Fale – Rumors continue to swirl around Devitt, with the latest being that his last match will be in March. The running story is that Taguchi wants to get his hands on Devitt, but Devitt plays chicken shit and runs away, usually baiting him into getting pummeled by Fale in the process. And that’s exactly what happened here, as Devitt ducked to the outside and Taguchi ate a Fale lariat when he tried to chased. Once Taguchi is weakened, that’s when Devitt goes after him. It’s simple psychology, but sort of makes Taguchi look like an idiot because it happens every match. Makabe was sort of just there, as he tends to disappear in these types of bouts. He did get one sequence where he killed everybody with hard lariats. The finish was Fale softening up Taguchi for Devitt, who hit his top rope double stomp. Devitt then went for the Bloody Sunday but Taguchi reversed and rolled him up for the pin, adding fuel to the “he’s leaving!” fire. This result means nothing in terms of Devitt’s future, because this wasn’t a blow off type loss. **
5. NWA World Tag Team Title #1 Contender Match: Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima vs. Big Daddy Yum Yum & Michael Tarver – After two…interesting? singles matches between these four in Hiroshima, I was bracing myself for this. Bruce Tharpe got enormous heat for his deal where he introduces the NWA reps. This was the first time his introductions were not muted, and holy shit have we been missing out. His introduction of Byron Wilcott went like this: “Weighing in at 258 pounds of pure milk chocolate, Big Daddy Yum Yum!” Pure. Milk. Chocolate. Tharpe is a great man. The match itself was better than it had any right to be. A perfectly acceptable tag bout, with Wilcott looking a lot less nervous than he appeared to be in Hiroshima, and Tenzan picking up the win with the Anaconda Vice on Tarver. I will say this about Wilcott. Nobody sells the Kojima chops quite like he does.
TenKoji are now the #1 contenders to NWA World Tag Team champs Rob Conway & Jax Dane. I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect Tarver & Yum Yum are finished here. There are two new NWA faces coming in this spring, plus Conway & Dane have to come back to defend against TenKoji. **1/4
6. Special Tag Match: Yuji Nagata & Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Daniel Gracie & Rolles Gracie – I’m not going to say much about this. I’m sure its getting destroyed in other places, and deservedly so, but much like the Tokyo Dome match while I didn’t like this, I also didn’t think it was negative star horrendous. This was probably a little better than Dome, but it wasn’t even close to good. I ended up giving it one star because Sakuraba busted out a plancha.
They all wore gi’s and did fake MMA, with Rolles tapping out Sakuraba for the win. Setting up a match that will either be the biggest train wreck in history or the greatest thing to ever happen in a wrestling ring, Yano & Iizuka challenged the Gracie’s post match. I have a morbid curiosity in that match. *
7. Special Tag Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi & Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Shinsuke Nakamura & Yujiro Takahashi – These are normally the types of matches where Tanahashi rests his broken body, but not on this night. Tanahashi & Yujiro worked the bulk of this, including a hot finishing stretch that saw Tanahashi finish him with the High Fly Flow after Yujiro got a two count on an Olympic slam and nearly hit a Tokyo Pimps before Tanahashi escaped with his life. A fun match all around that saved this show from the fake MMA. ***
8. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title: Kota Ibushi (c) vs. El Desperado – Desperado works a high impact, stiff junior style that reminds me of ACH. A standard back and forth, fast paced junior title match that showcased the best of both guys, especially Desperado who has been hit or miss since his debut in January. Ibushi won it with the Phoenix Splash after kicking out of the El Guitarra de la Muerte. ***1/2
9. NEVER Openweight Title: Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Tomohiro Ishii – Naito was immediately booed. Osaka never likes him, and he really had no chance in there with cult favorite Ishii. Ishii might be the only sympathetic underdog heel in wrestling history. Loud Ishii chants, and unlike tone deaf Batista at the Royal Rumble, Naito was smart enough to go with the flow and work subtle heel. This was just flat out great. The story was Ishii’s injured shoulder, and Naito’s bad knee, which he sold like a champion on this night. Key spots were Ishii kicking out of a bridging belly to back, rolling out of the way of a Stardust Press, and later kicking out of a dragon suplex, with Naito getting murdered by brainbusters, enzuguiri’s, headbutts, & kitchen sinks and kicking out at 2.9999 at every turn while Osaka went ballistic.
This was just a war, but not in a “who will break first” Ishii/Shibata or Shibata/Goto way, but more of a “both of these guys are broken because they methodically broke each other” way. Just a brilliant match all around, with great work, both guys playing their roles to perfection, a hot crowd, and exciting action. One last brainbuster finished Naito, at just the right moment, and this was an instant classic. A must see match, with Ishii finally getting his moment. I would have preferred it happened in Korakuen, but Osaka is the next best thing. Five stars. *****
10. IWGP Heavyweight Title: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Hirooki Goto – Shibata came to the ring with Goto. Okada came to the ring with a dinosaur and giant sword. I’m making this up, you say?
That added a quarter star alone. Okada worked over Goto forever to start. Goto made a brief comeback, but was cut off when Okada dropkicked him off of the top turnbuckle to the outside. Okada did the pose and went for a Rainmaker, but this was way too early as Goto ducked and killed him with a lariat to take control.
Goto used his neckbreaker variation from the top rope for a two count. He lifted Okada for either a brainbuster or his shouten, but Okada slipped out and went for a second Rainmaker. Goto blocked, Okada ducked a lariat, and hit a dropkick. He went or Rainmaker attempt #3, but Goto used a headbutt to escape. Goto hit the penalty kick for a big pop, and got a 2.9. He whipped Okada in, but Okada ducked a lariat and hit a gorgeous dropkick. He then hit the tombstone, screamed like a maniac, and finally nailed him with the Rainmaker (god, this always, ALWAYS looks great) for the win. Another great match. They teased Shibata/Okada post match, but in the presser Okada noted that if Shibata wants a shot, he needs to win New Japan Cup. ****1/2
A so-so first half and another Gracie thing were more than made up for by two incredible matches, one of which is a sure fire MOTY contender. Make it a point to see the semi & main.
Special thanks as always to the great @SenorLARIATO for the fantastic gifs!