New Japan Pro Wrestling
“The New Beginning in Osaka”
February 11, 2015
Bodymaker Colosseum – Osaka, Japan

Yohei Komatsu vs Sho Tanaka – If you’ve ever read one of my reviews or listened to the Voices of Wrestling Podcast, you are well aware that this is one of my favorite rivalries in wrestling, and that I think both of these young lions have enormous upside. After nearly two and a half years of young boy duties and THIRTY SEVEN singles matches against each other, I would even go as far as to say that both of these guys are probably better workers now than maybe a full third of the roster, which is heavy praise when you are dealing with one of the most stacked rosters in wrestling history. This match was a great example of how refined these guys are, particularly in the areas of selling and showing fire, and you get the sense that they’re both chomping at the bit to move on from the young lion world of six minute openers and crab hold finishes. The finish was creative, with Tanaka catching Komatsu in a standing stretch muffler position following a stiff slap exchange. Tanaka dropped him, and in the same motion locked in a single leg crab. As Komatsu reached for the ropes, Tanaka yanked him back and cinched in the second leg, forcing Komatsu to tap. Good match, as usual. Would have been REALLY good with three or four more minutes. **3/4

2. Captain New Japan & Manabu Nakanishi vs Tiger Mask & Mascara Dorada – This was originally scheduled as a six man match involving Satoshi Kojima and Jay White, but Kojima was pulled to replace Togi Makabe (flu) in the semi main event. Instead of replacing Kojima here, they yanked Jay White from the match and made it a straight junior vs heavy tag. That’s too bad, because I was looking forward to White’s PPV debut. It may have been confusing to some casual fans to see non pushed guys like Nakanishi & CNJ dominate the meat of the match, but you really have to understand puro psychology to get why this match was ultimately worked the way it was. The juniors vs heavyweights theme was played up big, with Nakanishi tossing around both guys and the juniors bouncing all over the place for him. Nakanishi, despite being almost completely immobile, still gets a tremendous amount of respect in the booking, and there was no way a couple of juniors were going to get the better of a former IWGP Heavyweight champion without working hard for it. Eventually they went after his knee to get him off his feet and out of the ring. CNJ is low enough on the card to work even with the juniors, so he ate a bunch of crazy Dorada dives. Even against a total bottom guy like CNJ, Dorada still needed to reverse a cradle to score the surprise “upset” win. I don’t understand a word of Japanese, but the announcers repeatedly screaming “junior! junior!” made it patently clear that Dorada beating the heavyweights was being played up big. Even Dorada acted shocked, holding up three fingers and asking the ref if he really scored the pin. Had Jay White been in the match, there is zero doubt that he would have taken the fall. In an odd way, pinning Captain New Japan of all people ended up being a much more significant win for Dorada, thanks to the fluke illness of Makabe. This tiend up mattering a lot more later in the show than it seemed to matter in the moment. **

3. Rob Conway & Chase Owens vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Jushin Thunder Liger – Either because they gave Conway new original music, or they found a way to overdub one channel while leaving the others open, we were finally able to hear Bruce Tharpe’s mic work during the introductions. Give Conway credit, as he was working this match barely a month after having his appendix removed, and he worked hard. I’m a sucker for the old school heel manager act, and Tharpe is legitimately as good in that role as anybody has been in years.. He’s a constant display of energy who never takes a rest, whether it’s working the ref, giving the fans a hard time, pantomime selling (in animated fashion) the blows his charges are dishing out, or interfering in the match. Liger had Owens set up for the brainbuster, but Tharpe hopped on the apron to break it up. This allowed Conway to give an Ego Trip to Liger behind the ref’s back, and then another to Tenzan to take him out. Owens then hit a package piledriver on Liger for the win. Liger sold it huge, and Tharpe draped an NWA flag over his body. Good enough match for the time it had, which served it’s purpose of setting up the two NWA title matches in Sendai. **1/2

4. Tomoaki Honma vs Kota Ibushi – I was beyond hyped for this match, on several different levels. First of all you’ve got two of the best workers in the world, and you have to dig pretty deep to find the last time either of these guys didn’t have a great high profile singles match. But you also had the story of Ibushi working from the position of favorite for the first time as a heavyweight in New Japan. It may be hard to believe, but Ibushi’s last singles win as a New Japan heavyweight was way back in August of 2013 (a G1 win over Karl Anderson). That fact is a bit of a fluke, because Ibushi would have won several matches in the 2014 G1 had he not been forced to pull out, but the overriding theme here remains, which is Ibushi’s slow climb as a heavyweight. The match didn’t disappoint. I loved the way Ibushi controlled the majority of the match, which fit the theme of being the favorite who was expected to win, and also from the perspective of playing to Honma’s strengths as a worker. Usually Ibushi is the one working from the bottom, so this was something I was looking forward to seeing. Honma of course got just enough to get the crowd behind him, especially on his final extended comeback. A decisive victory for Ibushi via the Phoenix Splash, which is exactly what it should have been. ****

5. IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles – reDRagon (c) vs Young Bucks vs Time Splitters – Coming into the match, I figured by consolidating the Wrestle Kingdom four way down to three teams (and eliminating the stalest of the four acts in the process) that it would result in a better paced, more deliberate, and stronger overall match. Welp, I was right. This was GREAT, even if the Osaka crowd took a few minutes to really get into it. I think sometimes we take these big New Japan junior tag matches for granted and grade them on a harder curve, because in a vacuum these bouts generally blow away anything we see in other major promotions in terms of workrate and exciting action. Take a team like the Usos. Despite being a really good team who almost always deliver good matches, they still feel like they’re a decade behind these three teams in terms of cutting edge work and pace. No outcome would have surprised me, but here’s hoping reDRagon sticks around, and here’s REALLY hoping the planned year long reDRagon vs Young Bucks ROH feud carries into New Japan and is fought over two sets of titles. In the useless trivia department, coming into this match reDRagon had won 18 straight New Japan matches after dropping their debut to the Time Splitters in the Seibu Dome. ****1/4


6. IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title – Kenny Omega (c) vs Ryusuke Taguchi – Even though it probably sounds like some bad shtick I would do on the podcast, the story of the New Beginning tour was Omega attacking the anus of Taguchi, in order to combat Taguchi’s flying ass attack. This totally bizarre storyline ends up making a lot of sense when you realize you’re dealing with a former DDT wrestler and a guy who calls himself Funky Weapon, and they wasted no time taking turns shoving a flagpole up each other’s assholes in the opening minutes of the match. These are the kinds of reviews where I can’t believe some of the shit i’m typing as i’m typing it. Omega did his cringy chainsaw gimmick, and that got over about as much as the flagpole sodomy, which was not at all. Taguchi kept using ass attacks, and they finally lost me. They lost the crowd way before that, so I was patient. I was fully prepared to give this a DUD rating until a good closing stretch and clean finish, but it wasn’t enough to save it entirely because I had mentally checked out by then. I was very wary of The Cleaner gimmick, but was being cautiously open minded. I’m now very close to giving up on it. Omega is way too talented for this hokey shit, and it’s all coming off so forced and out of place on New Japan shows. Bullet Club beat down Taguchi after the match, and Alex Shelly & Mascara Dorada made the save. Dorada and Omega did a stare down, so Dorada is next man up. This is good news, but if Omega doesn’t tone down the DDT/PWG nonsense for those matches, i’m handwaving the guy entirey until the BC run ends. *3/4

7. Toru Yano, Kazushi Sakuraba, Kazuchika Okada vs Yujio Takahashi, Tama Tonga, Bad Luck Fale – This match had no juice unless Okada or Tonga were in the ring. Sakuraba started the match, tagged out, and then hopped in a cab and went home. Not really, but he could have for all I know, because he was never seen again. I’ve seen mobsters work harder on union construction sites. Fale is a mess. It feels like he gains five pounds every time I see him, and he wasn’t exactly Mikhail Baryshnikov in the agility or nimbleness departments before he gained weight. He’s not a good worker, he doesn’t have any sort of special charisma (he actually has no charisma at all), and now he moves about as well as Nakanishi does. There aren’t many dudes on the roster I want to watch less. Tonga took a fantastic bump for The Rainmaker. That move never fails to look great, but Tonga took it to another level. Nothing match. **

8. Tomohiro Ishii, YOSHI-HASHI, Shinsuke Nakamura vs Tetsuya Naito, Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima – I like how Makabe gets the night off with the sniffles, but Ishii works every single show literally held together by tape. This match made me want to see Ishii face Kojima more than I want to see the Makabe rematch. I won’t complain if Makabe can’t kick the flu bug. Naito being booed in Osaka is one of my favorite things going today. Always a fun atmosphere, especially in situations like this where the fans rally behind the likes of YOSHI-HASHI to beat him. I’m probably the only person on Earth who enjoys the YOSHI-HASHI close call losses, and I liked the Kojima/Ishii interplay. This was better than the trios match that proceeded it, but it wasn’t anything worth seeking out. **3/4

9. IWGP Tag Team Titles – Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows – These two teams have found their groove together by working American style bouts with Goto as the babyface in peril, Gallows cutting off the comebacks with big power moves, and Shibata making the fiery comebacks. It’s a simple style of match, and not one that I generally prefer because I pretty much grew tired of southern style tags in like 1988, but that formula seems to work for these two teams when they get together. I was stunned when BC won the titles, which made no sense to me at first, but then it immediately clicked why and I figured at this point Styles was a lock to beat Tanahashi. I typed that in real time, so I’m leaving it in so I can look stupid if Tanahashi wins. Hopefully Anderson & Gallows have a better run with the belts the second time around, but I have a feeling we’re going to see these two teams continue to trade. ***1/4

10. IWGP Heavyweight Title – Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs AJ Styles – Tanahashi busting open his eye after banging domes with Mattoh Jacksonoh on a High Fly Flow that took out the entire Bullet Club on the floor, much like Bad Luck Fale breaking Nakamura’s face and CJ Parker busting up Kevin Owens’ nose, was one of those unintentional spots that ends up adding significantly to a match. I have no idea if Tanahashi’s bell was rung from that point forward, or if they called an audible on the structure of the closing stretch as a result (not the finish, but the means to which they got there), but Tanahashi getting his wig split ended up working out nicely for the story they ultimately ended up telling, as Styles controlled the majority of the bout from that point forward. The finish was fun and dramatic. Tanahashi setting up Styles for the same finish as the Styles/Naito match at Wrestle Kingdom got a nice pop, and Tanahashi struggling to avoid the Styles Clash moments later, only to get hit with a piledriver to set up the eventual match ending Styles Clash, was an awesome sight. This was completely different than the previous title match between these two, and a very different style of IWGP title match. Good stuff. ****

Bullet Club domination is going to rub some people the wrong way, but the only result that didn’t make sense or was completely unexpected coming into the show was the Anderson & Gallows win. Overall the show had the usual handful of very good matches, but what made this feel like a less than stellar New Japan PPV was the lack of a MOTY contender and matches that ended up feeling like filler than usual. It feels trite to complain about a show that had three 4-star matches, so I won’t, but that’s the double edged sword of having your bar set as high as New Japan. This is a show where you can easily watch three or four matches and rest easy skipping the rest.