New Japan Pro Wrestling
The New Beginning in Niigata
February 14, 2016
Aore Nagaoka
Watch: NJPWWorld.com

Bullet Club (Cody Hall & The Young Bucks) vs. Captain New Japan, Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask

Watching Cody Hall (along with the rest of New Japan’s collection of wrestler offspring who no doubt were wisely steered to Japan by their fathers for proper early career seasoning) slowly improve as he gears up for an eventual and inevitable NXT run has been fun. He’s starting to gain confidence in the ring, but his best work has been as the Young Bucks bodyguard/goon, tossing juniors around, hamming it up, basing for dives, and unwittingly blowing up peoples spots on social media. There is a naivete that comes across with Cody, which makes him perfect for his role as The Bucks dumb muscle. He no longer comes across like an embarrassing favor, he now comes off like a dude on the roster who has found himself and fills a legitimate undercard role.

BC won this with a double spike piledriver off of the top rope on Captain New Japan, which is a nifty way to incorporate Hall into their finish. I like the Bucks in this role of working the random six man opener, because it gives the match some juice, and I love the Bucks & Hall as a trio more than I probably should. I’d love to see them feud with the Briscoes & Yano team in place of Fale, Tonga, & Yujiro. This was fast paced and fun. Good opener. ***

CHAOS (Gedo & Kazushi Sakuraba) vs. reDRagon (Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly)

This had very little booking consequence, but was a real sleeper match on paper, with the reDRagon grapple guys squaring off with technisleaze Gedo and MMA legend Sak.

Good story told early, with Fish getting the better of Gedo (which is a singles match that I very badly want to see between two of my favorite wrestlers ever), and then biting off more than he could chew by asking for Sak. O’Reilly tried his hand with Sak, and worked closer to even, which was very clearly by design. This was well on its way to being an excellent match, but the finish came too quickly (Chasing the Dragon on Gedo), although not before O’Reilly was shown as (nearly) the equal to Sak on the mat, which was the key takeaway. reDRagon has still not been beaten in a two vs two traditional tag since their 2014 debut. **3/4

David Finlay, Manabu Nakanishi, Ryusuke Taguchi & Yuji Nagata vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Matt Sydal, Ricochet and Satoshi Kojima

Taguchi’s days as a serious professional ended when he lost to Kenny Omega last year, and his transition to total goofball has ended up being the best thing for both himself and the company. Considering his refusal to move up to heavyweight earlier in his career, you almost get the idea that he understood that he’d been miscast this entire time as a legitimate contender. He’s more over than ever, and he gives the NJPW undercard a fun dose of DDT or Dragon Gate wackiness. Kojima & Nagata had the most underrated bout in last year’s G1, a criminally under hyped bout that brought out the best elements of both men, and their exchanges both here and in Osaka made me want another singles match badly. This was another match that was well on its way to being something very good before it ended abruptly with Ricochet putting away Finlay with a shooting star press. Finlay looked great in his brief segment with Ricochet. I wish this had been five minutes longer. At this point the undercard felt exactly like a big Dragon Gate show where the prelims are fast paced, fun, and kept very short. ***

Los Ingobernables (EVIL & Tetsuya Naito) vs. Jay White & Michael Elgin

Naito harassed Nogami again, prompting Milano Collection AT to remove his headset, hop on the apron, and open the ropes for Naito, before accepting a very uncomfortable fist bump. This whole Naito/Nogami/Milano saga is very interesting, with Naito’s Brian Pillman like calculated unpredictability making everything feel so uneasy and creepy. This was the fourth straight short and sweet high quality undercard match, with White falling to the EVIL…well, EVIL, which is what he calls his STO. Much like New Beginning Osaka, there was noticeable level of hard work across the board in the undercard filler bouts, which could either be a booking directive, or the undercard wrestlers all playing a game of “look at me!” while recognizing that the company needs to fill spots higher on the card. Either way, effort level noticeably higher. Naito beat up the ref post match, prompting Milano to refuse a second fist bump as Naito exited ringside. ***

NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Championship
Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga & Yujiro Takahashi) (c) vs. Jay Briscoe, Mark Briscoe & Toru Yano

Speaking of effort, Mark Briscoe has been a house of fire on these New Japan shows. There is limited upside in his… well, whatever his gimmick is supposed to be, and you almost wish he would drop the wildman act to take on a persona closer to his brother, if only for the possibility of opening him up to bigger singles pushes, but holy shit does this man work his ass off. It was very obvious that this was going to be short by the pacing in the opening minutes, but this was probably my favorite match between these teams to date, even if the Osaka match was technically “better”. Yano cradled up Yujiro G1 SURPRISE style to win the titles back. I love these titles. Since January, they’ve headlined a Korakuen show, been defended on every big event, and after the quickie New Beginning switches, have an element of unpredictability to them that makes every match a ton of fun. Another added benefit, is that the presence of the belts adds significance to the other previously completely meaningless six man matches on the cards.

As I watch Los Ingobernables go undefeated or the Young Bucks & Cody Hall look good, I can’t help but think about whether teams like that will get a crack at the trios belts. Shame on anyone who bashed the decision to add this championship. It rules. **3/4

https://twitter.com/SenorLARIATO/status/698784166167576576

During intermission, there was a man sitting behind Milano who was wearing a very garish sweater while enjoying what appeared to be a smoked turkey leg. I was fascinated by this. Hopefully someone gif’d it.

CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI) vs. Hirooki Goto, Juice Robinson & Katsuyori Shibata

Okada vs Goto got a good ovation, but Shibata vs Ishii blew the roof off. Two great, intense matches will do that in what is the (very) early front runner for Feud of the Year. This left Juice paired of with Tacos, and well, the crowd went mild for that. It’ll never happen, but I don’t think a Juice/YOSHI-HASHI singles feud would be the worst thing for either guy. YH would go over, which would give him a little more credibility, and Juice would benefit from working a singles program instead of just eating falls in six man bouts, as he did here via Rainmaker.

Good storytelling here with Goto. First, Shibata broke up a pin and then kicked the downed Goto in the back, as to say “C’mon, man!”. Goto side eyed him. After the match, a smug Okada offered Goto a handshake, with Shibata watching very carefully from the aisle. Goto refused it and walked off. All of this got over very well with the crowd. Goto is going through some very interesting character developments right now. This match got the time that the undercard matches didn’t. ***¼

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
KUSHIDA (c) vs. BUSHI

I loved everything about this. KUSHIDA survived two mist blows, a top rope MX, a potential count out after a chair to the head from EVIL, and other assorted Los Ingobernables trickery, yet none of it felt excessive. All the while, Naito abused the young boys at ringside, which ended up backfiring when KUSHIDA had BUSHI locked in what turned out to be the match ending Hoverboard Lock as the lions held on to Naito for dear life to prevent him from interfering to break the hold. This all had me rooting hard for KUSHIDA to overcome the madness, and when he did, he came out of this looking stronger than ever, especially when he snapped mid match and resorted to a closed fist to the face that drew gasps from the crowd and some nasty mask ripping. I love the new BUSHI, but this would have been the wrong time for the switch, and there is plenty of time for his big push somewhere down the line. This is KUSHIDA’s time. ***¾

https://twitter.com/SenorLARIATO/status/698801797306183681

IWGP Tag Team Championship
Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma) (c) vs. Bullet Club (Doc Gallows & Karl Anderson)

I really, really, really wish we had gotten the Guns & Gallows of 2016 back in 2014 and 2015. Maybe it’s GBH bringing out the best in them, maybe it’s the added motivation to work hard for a company they respect as they exit out the door, but whatever the reason, I’ve really enjoyed all of their work since Wrestle Kingdom. Anderson & Gallows emptied the tank on Honma, but it wasn’t enough, with the strong, definitive GBH win putting an end not only to the feud, but following Tama Tonga’s challenge to GBH (promising a new mystery member of BC as his partner), it also put a symbolic finish to their place on top of the IWGP tag team scene. The expected post-match Bullet Club angle never occurred, but Anderson & Gallows did give their bows to the crowd, as this was very likely their final pure NJPW bout. Elevating Tama Tonga with a brief NEVER Openweight Trios title run and an IWGP tag title program is a long overdue move that I’m very excited about. ***¼

IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kenny Omega

I’m going to go full Ru Gunn here, as Kenny Omega made the right choice in ditching his short lived awful multi colored long tights, as his new snake skin style black tights with the wing imagery is much more befitting of a main event player. Is the Tanahashi shoulder issue a cleverly booked work, or a cleverly booked workaround of a very real injury? I’m leaning towards the latter, but in reality it doesn’t matter, as either way it became the booking focal point of this bout, giving an out for Tanahashi to lose to the heel while leaving open room for a “fair and square” rematch. A key spot early was Omega, matching his comments in the build up for the match, refusing the help of Yujiro & Hall, and then asking Red Shoes to to eject them from ringside. “I’m going to have to do this on my own. Have trust in me.” I mean, the blindest man could see that this was a ruse, but the way it played out was even better. Tanahashi skinned the cat, but was caught by Omega on the way back in setting up a shoulder breaker that led to the shoulder being worked over for the rest of the bout. An added layer was Omega working around a bum right knee, as he failed to complete throws and struggled to do flying moves. Omega is one of the best in the game at incorporating an injured body part into his matches and his ability to execute his offense. Tanahashi grounded Omega with dragon screws and used the cloverleaf.

Cody Hall ran down, and while the ref chased him off, the Young Bucks emerged from under the ring to deliver a double superkick and an Indytaker. Omega used a Styles Clash and Tanahashi kicked out. He tried a One Winged Angel, but it was reversed with a reverse rana, and a Dragon Suplex for two. With Red Shoes out, the Bucks ran in, but were run off by BIG MIKE, who carried them away on his shoulders. Tanahashi went through his finishing sequence, but Omega rolled out of the way of a HFF, and used two incredible looking Boma Ye’s for near falls. At this point this felt like a big time dramatic main event. Omega used a third Boma Ye, and finished off Tanahashi with the One Winged Angel. A great match with some great booking that left room for rematches while managing to somehow get Omega over as both a delusional heel and a legitimate main eventer, all at the same time, by surviving Tanahashi’s winning assault after the heel shenanigans failed and were thwarted by Elgin. ****

https://twitter.com/SenorLARIATO/status/698819394198204416

Final Thoughts: Hirooki Goto’s odd approach to the first third of the Osaka main event aside, the two New Beginning shows were an absolute home run from both an entertainment and booking standpoint. With cool new directions for nearly every title and legitimate elevations of new talent (Shibata, Tonga, Omega, BUSHI, Elgin, etc), it feels like there is a fresh coat of paint on a company that felt complacent and conservative over the last year. I’ve said recently that Pro Wrestling NOAH has the most interesting booking in wrestling these days, but with Suzuki-gun on the precipice of turning into NWO black & white, the pendulum has swung to New Japan, where the stagnation of 2015 has been replaced by unpredictability and new faces now occupying key spots on the card. Wrestle Kingdom, New Year Dash, the Fantasticamania tour, and both New Beginnings were all excellent shows, as New Japan is off to a hot start in a year that promised tons of uncertainty.