New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to New Beginning
On Wednesday night, the latest news wave coming out of New Japan actually originated from Winter Park, Florida. In announcing one of the main event matches for April’s NXT Takeover: Dallas, the debut date was revealed for former IWGP Intercontinental Champion and NJPW mainstay, Shinsuke Nakamura. Of course, Nakamura wasn’t quite done in NJPW. At Korakuen Hall on January 30, Shinsuke Nakamura would make his final (for now) appearance in NJPW. Taking part in an all-star 6-man main event, Nakamura worked in front of an adoring crowd, and possibly an even more adoring set of colleagues.
Sure, the future is uncertain for Shinsuke Nakamura as far as his WWE career goes. The past, however, cemented his historic profile in the world of pro wrestling. It was just this past autumn when Nakamura was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame, a move that was seen at the time as a bit premature by many in the wrestling community. I wonder if his move to WWE doesn’t cause those who voted him in to second guess their choice, as a failing run in WWE would likely have hindered his future performance in the voting.
Nakamura, by no means, is a poor candidate for the Hall regardless. The accolades are numerous: A multiple time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, IWGP Intercontinental Champion, former winner of the G1 Climax and Global Tag League, and many strong performances in magazine and newsletter awards issues. Nakamura was perhaps most important to NJPW in the past few years, when he helped usher in a brand new fan base outside of Japan. Hiroshi Tanahashi may be the ace of NJPW in Japan, but it was difficult to find a stronger fan favorite for an audience abroad than Shinsuke Nakamura.
The questions are almost endless. Will Nakamura succeed in WWE? Will the charisma that captured the hearts of a Japanese audience be enough to get him over in front of a far different American fan base? How will Nakamura react to being lower on the totem pole in WWE/NXT than what he’s been used to in the past several years? I could go on, but at the moment, the answers to those questions aren’t important. This is Shinsuke Nakamura’s NJPW goodbye. We have plenty of time later for Shinsuke’s WWE hello.
David Finlay def. Hirai Kawato
A short match, going under five minutes, saw David Finlay open up with a singles victory against one of the newer young lions in NJPW – Harai Kawato. Finlay is putting on weight day-by-day, seemingly pushing for the end to his eligibility in Best of the Super Juniors. Finlay’s victory came as a result of a submission, with Kawato tapping out to the Boston crab. **
YOSHI-HASHI def. Jay White
With chants of “Jay!” “Jay!” “Jay!” serenading him at the open, the Road to New Beginning saw a big bump for Jay White. Playing up the result of the opening match, Jay White locked in a Boston crab that looked as if it just might put an end to YOSHI-HASHI’s night. Briefly. It wouldn’t happen, of course, as YOSHI-HASHI put the young lion down with power. David will have some bragging rights over Jay for at least a couple of days. **
Jushin Thunder Liger and Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan of TenCozy def. Tiger Mash & Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata
With Yohei Komatsu and Sho Tanaka leaving for Mexico, the days of the young lions card-opening singles bouts outperforming the aged veteran multi-man tag might just be over. Indeed, this 6-man tag outshined the two opening singles matches… and it wasn’t that close. Hell, even Nakanishi looked ten years younger in this bout. It may be the energy of a packed Korakuen, combined with the emotion of Nakamura’s goodbye, that allowed the past-their-prime performers to dig down a bit deeper to make this match better than it had any right to be. Kojima finished off Nakanishi with a lariat to gain victory for his team. ***1/4
Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi of BULLET CLUB def. Toru Yano & Kazushi Sakuraba of CHAOS
The first match of the night that featured relatively direct build to a New Beginning match – It’s Fale’s quest for the 6-man titles. Toru Yano holds the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Championships with his partners, ROH’s Jay and Mark Briscoe. Bad Luck Fale, failing to hold a championship since his brief run with the Intercontinental title two years ago, thinks he’s pretty close to holding gold again with Yano’s tag titles. He may be right. At New Beginning in Osaka, Fale will team up with Tama Tonga and Yujiro to challenge for the NEVER 6-man tag titles again. Could it be Fale’s time!? Let us know on the VOW Forums! **
Tetsuya Naito & EVIL & BUSHI Los Ingobernables def. Ryusuke Taguchi & Captain New Japan & KUSHIDA
EVIL gets a win! Main idea in the match was to promote the upcoming title match between KUSHIDA and BUSHI. The all caps battle might just lead to a new champ, who would then be the target of a rather fresh litany of challengers: Matt Sydal, Ricochet, WILLIAM OSPREAY, and others. After a year in which we all waited anxiously for KUSHIDA’s big win and strong title reign, is the momentum now towards a KUSHIDA loss so soon? Plus, we’re not quite sure what is next for Naito. He should be the biggest beneficiary, outside of Kenny Omega, of the Nakamura and Styles exodus. **1/2
Kenny Omega & Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows & Cody Hall of BULLET CLUB def. Michael Elgin & Juice Robinson and Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma of Great Bash Heel
Michael Elgin, as we’d come to find out, is not X. If you’re unaware, Kenny Omega is wrestling ‘X’, an unknown opponent, for the now vacant IWGP Intercontnental title at New Beginning in Niigata. There was much speculation that opponent would be Michael Elgin. The idea fit in many ways, but it is not to be. However, if you wanted to see how Elgin would interact with Omega inside a NJPW ring, you did get a bit here.
This was a standard 8-man house show tag, but the high energy of Elgin, mixed with the general fun that Honma and Omega bring to the ring, made this an enjoyable watch for the eleven minute length. At this point, we still didn’t know who ‘X’ was… But, that would change soon. ***
SHINSUKE NAKAMURA’s LAST MATCH
Kazuchika Okada & Shinsuke Nakamura & Tomohiro Ishii of CHAOS def. Hirooki Goto & Hiroshi Tanahashi & Katsuyori Shibata
The story of the entire card, everything else being quickly forgotten: Shinsuke Nakamura would be no more in NJPW. Before the match, a highlight video of the accomplishments gathered in the career of Shinsuke Nakamura. The entrances, seeing a much more enthused and emotional than usual response from the 1,800 in attendance. The atmosphere, a special feeling surrounding a more important non-PPV main event than often delivered. It truly was the end of an era in NJPW.
The match itself was nothing too grand, and it didn’t have to be. These were currently the six pillars of the heavyweight division, with one leaving. Sure, this match directly built the Ishii-Shibata and Goto-Okada programs, but everyone was there to celebrate Nakamura. Perhaps most appealing, the interactions, or sometimes lack thereof, between Tanahashi and Nakamura. Even more interesting when we saw the post-match reveal of X. Before that, however, the result: Ishii pinning Shibata. ***1/4
After that, the reveal…
With Kenny Omega making his way to the ring, mocking Nakamura for running from Omega, Hiroshi Tanahashi revealed himself to be X. It’ll be Tanahashi vs Omega for the Intercontinental Title at New Beginning in Niigata. The main event speculated for weeks is cemented.
Following the necessary storyline advancement, the emotional goodbye to Nakamura could commence. While Nakamura didn’t wish to call it a goodbye, but rather a thankful celebration, it was clear he’d be missed by both fans and wrestlers alike. If you weren’t a fan of Nakamura, or aren’t in a farewell mood as Nakamura will still be on TV worldwide on WWE Network, this celebration may still give you goosebumps. Kazuchika Okada’s tears will force that.