NJPW on AXS has finished off their tremendous Wrestle Kingdom 9 coverage and are now into the second major tour of the year, the New Beginning stops in Osaka and Sendai. Tonight, the focus is on the Jr. Heavyweight Championship as Ryusuke Taguchi and Kenny Omega try to up their game in a rematch from their disappointing WK9 match. Before that, however, it’s another WK9 rematch with Gun & Gallows looking to regain the tag straps from Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata.

I love the way Ranallo and Barnett portrayed the story of Shibata early on. I didn’t realize it in February, when this show took place initially, but this was Shibata’s first title defense in his NJPW career. Both Ranallo and Barnett hammered home the point that being a defending champion is much different than being a challenger. Immediately, that added a new flavor to the match. What felt like a stale rematch at one point is now something new and exciting because of Shibata’s story.

The tag match aired in full and it gave the announcers the opportunity to put over the Bullet Club duo really strong. In a stark contrast to what is presented on Monday nights, both announcers here established that Anderson & Gallows were clearly bad guys, but they were smart. They don’t have to cheat to win, that’s just the way they choose to live their lives. It’s the small things that make this broadcast the best in wrestling.

From an in-ring standpoint, this match is much, much better than I remember it being. Perhaps it was hurt in context because the show featured an array of annoying booking decisions, but nine months later, this match is outstanding. It’s one of my favorite Shibata performances, one of the best Doc Gallows performances I’ve ever seen, and both Goto and Anderson hold their own. An excellent job by all four men.

Former IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion, Ryusuke Taguchi is shown coming back from commercial break in the typical pre-match interview segment.

“There’s always a right to reclaim the throne when a champion loses. I didn’t feel that I had lost. I should’ve won. I asked for just one rematch as I was confident that I’d win. I only needed one match. 

Omega seemed to lack the experience as a pro. It was his usual style topped with some tricks. Because of that, his attacks now had more variety. With more time, he had learned more tricks, and that made it harder for me to fight.”

I have a real affection for Kenny Omega as a professional wrestler and, well, Taguchi is Taguchi, but this match is no good. Ranallo and Barnett, even at the commentary position, couldn’t make this match enjoyable. I can’t enjoy a professional wrestling contest that is worked around Omega sticking a flagpole in Taguchi’s ass. That’s just not me. That’s actually just an entirely new level of the #grapplefuck style, and like the original incarnation of that style, I just don’t get it. I think Omega is an excellent wrestler that has really come around in New Japan. He’s toned down his goofiness and turned up his intensity, but the fact is, he was two months into his role as The Cleaner at this point and it was still very, very rough.

After the debacle of a match, Taguchi was left to close out the broadcast with his post-match interview.

“Kenny nailed a One Winged Angel at Tokyo Dome on me. That was how he beat me. That was the one move that I didn’t want to get. I was careful not to get it. But in the end when I tried to hold out for one last time, he carried me in an unexpected way.

I couldn’t get the belt in the end, but I guess that was a good thing. It wasn’t about the belt. It was more about how I can improve as the former 69th champion. There may be certain expectations as a champion. But I find it better to fight freely than to try to act like a champion. That way, when I become the champion, you can watch that type of Ryusuke Taguchi.”

Final Thoughts: The first 30 minutes of this broadcast are excellent. Ranallo and Barnett knock it out of the park with Shibata’s story and his quest to win his first title defense. It was an added dynamic to the match that I did not pick up on in real time. The main event is skippable. There’s nothing there to hold your attention. Omega tries hard, Taguchi tries hard to do his stitch, but much like their Tokyo Dome match, it falls flat. Thumbs in the middle for this show.