New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to THE NEW BEGINNING: Night 1
JANUARY 27, 2017
KORAKUEN HALL – Tokyo, Japan


On the eve of the Lunar New Year, NJPW returned to Korakuen Hall to kick off their first full-fledged tour of 2017. As the name implies, The New Beginning is the start of New Japan’s regular season.

Yuji Nagata Def. Tomoyuki Oka

For his regular season debut, Oka got the same generic young lion entrance theme and video that is used by guys like Kawato and Kanemitsu. At 6’1″, 253 pounds, the 25-year old Oka is significantly bigger than most other recent dojo graduates. He’s getting a later start on his career, but his amateur background and MMA experience are obvious from the opening bell. Oka naturally moves like a wrestler; rare for someone having only their second official match. He also flashes some great offensive potential. For example, he uses a beautifully smooth front suplex (belly-to-belly). Nagata did a good job of highlighting his pupil’s strengths, drawing out the young lion’s aggression, and guiding him to a fun match for his Korakuen debut. Recommended.  **

Tiger Mask & Yoshitatsu Def. Jushin Thunder Liger & Henare

This match was originally supposed to be a six-man, but David Finlay and Hirai Kawato were removed because Finlay is injured. Henare is making strides and building more confidence. As commentary noted, he’s also adopted some of his senpai, Manabu Nakanishi’s “wild-man”  mannerisms. The brief interactions between Liger and Tiger mask were good. At times, Yoshitatsu was interesting on offense, but still he’s painfully boring overall. This was a fine showcase for Henare. *3/4

The training wheels of justice will come off for Oka when he faces Henare on the February 7th Korakuen show.

CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Gedo & Jado) Def. Suzuki-gun (Takashi Iizuka, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado)

The most interesting part of this match was the new young lion at ringside.

Iizuka attacked announcer Shinpei Nogami before the match which led to Nogami calling the rest of the match wearing only a tie. The purpose of the match was to reintroduce Iizuka to the NJPW fanbase…or to remind NOAH fans to not complain about long matches. *1/2

Killer Elite Squad Def. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima

Well, after the Suzuki-gun B-team’s underwhelming return in the last match, the A-team got a good showcase. I’m happy to have a rejuvenated KES back on a bigger stage. Smith and Archer, having mastered their characters, should provide a substantial boost in quality to the heavyweight tag division. Kojima was great as always, especially in his comebacks and on defense.  Tenzan moves worse than Jado, but, for some reason,  he’s much more charming. This match effectively presented KES as a dangerous and experienced tag team. Commentary punctuated the homecoming by exclaiming: “This is Suzuki-gun! This is KES! Strong! These guys are strong!” Recommended. **3/4

Great Bash Heel, Katsuyori Shibata & Juice Robinson Def. CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Toru Yano, Tomohiro Ishii & Will Ospreay)

This was definitely my favorite match of the night. From the start, the separate entrances made this match feel like more than your dime-a-dozen house show multi-man. Goto made his entrance last, a cue that the NEVER title will retain its place in the pecking order going forward. It was interesting to see Shibata wearing his Rev Pro, Masakatsu Funaki-inspired tights. He’s also added in some British-flavored matwork and transitions.

The match had an excellent pace. The interactions between Shibata and Ospreay perfectly set the tone for their upcoming title match. Honma and Ishii worked hard as always. I’m looking forward to seeing more from the pairing of Goto and Juice. Their strengths play really well together: Juice’s bumping and selling, Goto’s offense. The match successfully accomplished its goal of creating interest in the each of the upcoming title matches. Strongly recommended.  ***1/4

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, EVIL, BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi) Def. Michael Elgin, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Manabu Nakanishi, Ryusuke Taguchi & KUSHIDA

This was very similar to the previous match, but worked a little more deliberately. Like Yano in the previous match, Taguchi added some great comedy. After losing his title, KUSHIDA is taking a backseat this tour. However, his interactions with Hiromu and Naito were still great. The Hontai six-man championship team has an interesting and quirky chemistry. Elgin hasn’t missed a beat with the fans despite missing two months worth of shows. I forgot how great his chemistry with Naito is. Strongly recommended.  ***

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Taichi & TAKA Michinoku) Def. CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada & Roppongi Vice)

Before the match, commentary pointed out that Nagata and Minoru crossed paths in high school amateur matches. The match itself was nothing special and the brawling didn’t really add anything.  In his Wonderland interview, Suzuki mentioned that he would win at all costs. His comment leads me to believe they’re going to have a shenanigan-heavy title match at the tour ender. Check out the interview though, it’s a great character development piece. I think I miss Okada’s caveman dance partner as much as he does.

I know they are capable of having a classic match together, but I think Okada and Suzuki might be better suited to a G1-style sprint. With Suzuki-gun back, I’m also expecting a slower pace in the Jr. Tag title match. The recent trend of great traditional 2-on-2 title matches in that division might be coming to an end. **1/2