New Japan Pro Wrestling
The New Beginning in Osaka
February 11, 2017
EDION Arena Osaka
Osaka, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Meet our previewers:

  • Joe Lanza: Internationally acclaimed broadcast journalist as heard on BBC Radio. The King of Banter. The most compelling man in wrestling media. The guy you probably subtweet about.
  • Aaron Bentley: Aaron is VOW’s least consistent contributor and a man whose occasional tweets (@AaronBentleyVOW) engender far too little interaction.
  • John Carroll: John is the only previewer who is literally a member of the New Japan Pro Wrestling fanclub, which recently got them a valentine from Hiroshi Tanahshi. Be jealous. They do that Open the Voice Gate thing (@openvoicegate) and you can also find their personal Twitter @toshanshuinla.

TAKA Michinoku vs. Hirai Kawato

Joe Lanza: Back at World Tag League 2011, which is so long ago at this point that it was still called G1 Tag League, TAKA Michinoku spent the entire tour stretching dudes named Takaaki Watanabe, Kyosuke Mikami, and Hiromu Takahashi in the openers, and doing so with deranged glee. You may know those three young lions today as EVIL, El Desperado, and, well, Hiromu Takahashi. Young River People Kawato is in for a beating. Prediction: TAKA Michinoku

Aaron Bentley: Kawato is coming off the best performance of his young career at the Sapporo show. There, he showed off his burgeoning ability to sell. Luckily for him, TAKA is at his best when he’s stretching young boys in K-DOJO, so the stars may align for a really fun opener. Prediction: TAKA Michinoku

John Carroll: Kawato’s kanji literally means “river people” if you’re wondering why Google Translate keeps calling him that. See: 川人, the kanji for river (“kawa”) and the kanji for person (“to”, though this is an exceptional reading found only in names and some suffixes; the more typical Japanese reading is “hito”). I tell you this mostly because it’s more interesting than actually talking about this match. TAKA is gonna win, his awesome theme music is gonna get overdubbed (it’s literally his old WWF theme with him screaming “TAKA IS COMING! motherfucker….” and “I’M GONNA KICK YOU ASS” at the start), and life will go on.
Prediction: TAKA Michinoku

Henare, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Tomoyuki Oka, KUSHIDA & Yoshitatsu

Joe Lanza: This match has been changed like three times due to various injuries (David Finlay, El Desperado, Lance Archer), so here I am editing another preview. We should probably just publish this before Tiger Mask steps on an open manhole and the card is reshuffled again. Henare reminds me of a young Kojima, and if you don’t believe me, check out some youthful Kojima on your award winning New Japan Network. Same build, same fire, same energy. I approve of Henare teaming with, and hopefully studying tape of, Kojima. Prediction: TenKoji & Henare

Aaron Bentley: The real upset here is that the balding Oka isn’t tagging with the New Japan Dads. Henare and Oka have only been on the opposite side of a match one time before, and that was a recent singles bout, which Henare won. Who takes the pinfall could tell us whether Henare/Oka is a Jay White/David Finlay situation (White always won) or a Sho Tanaka/Yohei Komatsu scenario (They largely traded wins early in the series). This will also be Oka’s first multi-man match without Yuji Nagata, so I’m interested to see how he reacts.  Prediction: Henare, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan

John Carroll: This is a more interesting undercard 6-man tag than you might think from first glance. Kojima had some surprisingly harsh words for Yoshitatsu after their match at Korakuen earlier in the week, basically asking why he was so weak and telling him he should be stronger than this, so I’ll be interested to see if that plays into the match at all. You have a burgeoning big young lion rivalry in Oka and Henare too, which should provide some sparks if the two of them get in the ring together again. I’m already super into Oka and his suplexes, so looking forward to seeing more of that here.

Prediction: Henare & TenKoji

 

CHAOS (Gedo, Hirooki Goto, Jado & YOSHI-HASHI) vs. Juice Robinson, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask & Yuji Nagata

Joe Lanza: Juice Robinson was not only the sole survivor in the Korakuen Hall CHAOS vs New Japan Army elimination match, but Goto was the final elimination. That unofficially puts Juice up 2-1 on Goto, and I think his side will win here too. If Juice scores another fall on Goto, could we be headed to a NEVER rematch? Prediction: Juice, Liger, TMIV, Nagata

Aaron Bentley: The most shocking thing about the Juice Robinson vs. Goto match in Sapporo was the amount of Robinson’s offense. The bout was nearly 50/50, which presumably means New Japan is bullish on Juice’s future. Still, it’s hard to believe Juice would prevail over Goto on two straight shows. Prediction: CHAOS (Gedo, Hirooki Goto, Jado & YOSHI-HASHI)

John Carroll: The Juice vs. Goto match was cool but I’m kind of ready to move past this feud, to be quite honest. Really the Goto as NEVER champion thing isn’t really clicking with me at all so far; somehow he feels too good for the belt and yet also undeserving of it at the same time, which I know makes no sense but there you go. Maybe there’s just no way to present Hirooki Goto in 2017 that doesn’t feel like a whole lot of whatever. This is a dude that desperately needs a heel turn because the whole Okada’s lackey thing just doesn’t work for him at all. Anyway. I guess this match will be okay, but I can’t say I’m looking forward to it at all. Prediction: CHAOS

CHAOS (Beretta, Kazuchika Okada & Rocky Romero) vs. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Taichi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)

Joe Lanza: Like the previous bout, this match will go a long way in determining whether Okada and Suzuki are parting ways. Suzuki eliminated Okada from the CHAOS vs SZG elimination match by dropping him to the floor with the kneebar (don’t ask), which tips off that Suzuki might score a win here. Here is all you need to know about the supposed poor psychology in the Okada/Suzuki match. Has a move that ultimately didn’t even finish off an opponent ever gotten over as strong as Suzuki’s kneebar? The fans in Korakuen reacted like it was the most dangerous thing ever when he locked it on Beretta and Okada. People often confuse bad psychology with the psychology they don’t personally want. Prediction: Suzuki-gun

Aaron Bentley: I’m fine with another Okada/Suzuki match, though I was nonplussed by their first encounter, but I’m not sure what the future holds for Suzuki-gun. In their New Japan debut, they scored no victories of note, and even the future junior tag challenge by El Desperado and Kanemaru is now up in the air. If this match sets up a title rematch for the SZKG leader, he almost has to win, if the faction is not to be dead on (re)arrival. It seems a better use of the newly bloated roster to let Suzuki move on to something else, and keep a future Okada match in the back pocket. Prediction: CHAOS (Beretta, Kazuchika Okada & Rocky Romero)

John Carroll: Yeah, count me in as someone who would not like to see another Okada/Suzuki match, at least not right away. I thought the match in Sapporo was pretty damn good (probably about **** level) and Okada’s selling was fantastic…..except when he hit his dropkick picture-perfect after like 20 minutes of leg work. That was no bueno (and took the match down a few notches for me personally). Sometimes you just need to not hit your damn dropkick, you know? The fact that he couldn’t go without it (or even better, attempt it but be unable to pull it off due to the damage) says a lot about his limitations as a performer, I think (or maybe it actually just speaks to the modern wrestling style, that we need that signature move no matter what the context of the match is). Anyway, I guess my point in all this is to say that their match was flawed but still very good, but I don’t need to see another one so soon after a 40+ minute match. Hopefully Suzuki eliminating Okada at Korakuen and all this “THE WAR ISN’T OVER!!” stuff was just to keep things going through this match in Osaka, and not set-up for another title match. Anyway I think Kanemaru pins one of the RPG Vice boys to set up a future junior tag title match. Prediction: Suzuki-gun

NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Title Match
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Manabu Nakanishi & Ryusuke Taguchi (c) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL & SANADA)

Joe Lanza: Nakanishi polishing off BUSHI at New Year Dash to win the titles was a cool moment, particularly coming off his great singles match against Nagata a few weeks earlier in the same building. Any prediction in a trios title match that doesn’t tell you a title change is coming is a bad one. Prediction: LIJ

Aaron Bentley: No one enjoys Taguchi’s satirical EVIL get-up more than me, but the current champions have run their course in the abbreviated life cycle that is the NEVER Six Man titles. Prediction: Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL & SANADA)

John Carroll: The champion team becomes even better when you read the post-match promos and learn that Taguchi is actually doing a soccer player/coach gimmick (the highlight from Korakuen: calling the fans’ support in their match the “12th man on the team” before quickly realizing their team didn’t actually have 11 men to begin with….), which I promise is just as tremendous as it sounds. Nothing in this match will probably top Taguchi-as-EVIL and EVIL slowly walking past each other without even vaguely acknowledging their doppelganger, but I’m still pretty hyped for it. Yes, LIJ should probably win back the titles here and I’m assuming they will, but let’s pour one out for the deliciously random, fun team of Taguchi Japan. Prediction: LIJ

RevPro British Heavyweight Title Match
Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Will Ospreay

Joe Lanza: My most anticipated match of the entire New Beginning tour, a classic clash of styles that I think will produce a very unique bout that takes both men out of their comfort zones. Many fans think that Ospreay can’t possibly win this match because New Japan would never book a junior to beat Shibata. I’m not so sure that matters in what is being presented as a RevPro match. I don’t think an Ospreay loss would hurt Shibata at all, as a New Japan Cup or especially a G1 win would erase any prior losses, particularly one for a non NJPW title. An Ospreay win would do more to elevate Will than it would hurt Shibata. With all of that said, I think Shibata retains. Rev Pro already planted seeds for Shibata/Zack Sabre Jr, and while it’s possible that could be a non title match and still headline, I think Zack beats Shibata for the belt. Prediction: Katsuyori Shibata

Aaron Bentley: I’m in the camp that says a junior is not beating Shibata, especially considering the way Ospreay has been booked in New Japan. Shibata is in the middle of a long, slow push up the card, and dropping a fall to a junior seems to work against that. It wouldn’t matter to me, or most American fans, but New Japan books the way they do for a reason, and Ospreay winning this match would be antithetical to those principles. I believe RevPro spoiled the end of this match, because they’re planning to have Zack Sabre Jr. take the belt from Shibata. Ospreay will look great in a hard-fought loss. Prediction: Katsuyori Shibata

John Carroll: Yeah, the other two kind of summed this one up. As someone who has never seen a single second of a RevPro show (look, I’m sorry Britain, I only have so much time to watch professional wrestling and I couldn’t add another country to my rotation, please don’t hate me) this doesn’t really connect with me on a level that I’m sure it does for others, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still hyped to see Shibata and Young William do battle. I can’t see Will winning this either, and I sure as hell hope he doesn’t, but I guess stranger things have happened. Winner: Katsuyori Shibata





IWGP Tag Team Title Three Way Match
CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) (c) vs. Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma) vs. Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Takashi Iizuka

Joe Lanza: This over delivered in Sapporo, so while I’ll never come around on the booking aspect of these three way tag title matches, I’m done moaning about how bad they’ll be since they seem to be very good every time. With that said, Iizuka taking the place of the injured Lance Archer is about as much of a downgrade as you can have. I would have picked KES here, but they aren’t strapping the tag belts to Iizuka. I’ll say GBH wins the titles back.

On a personal note, Lance Hoyt is someone who has been good to us, is an extremely hard worker who takes pride in what he does and entertaining the fans (and worked injured for a long time to do so), and is a very cool dude. I was gutted when he filled us in on his injury situation, which on the surface sounds very dire. I know he’s going to work his ass off to come back from this. It goes without saying that we’re pulling for him to have a safe, successful surgery, and if all goes well, I can’t wait to see him back in the ring. Prediction: GBH

Aaron Bentley: Before Archer’s injury, I thought KES would walk away with the titles, but I can’t see DBS and Iizuka as tag champs. If KES was the plan, it probably makes most sense for Ishii & Yano to retain and get the booking back on track at the next show. This match also has much less of a chance to be good with Iizuka replacing Archer, but for it to be good, Ishii has to be more involved than he has been in any of these tag matches. I’m not sure if he’s disinterested or just resting, but I hope that ends here. Prediction: CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano)

John Carroll: Yeah, Archer’s injury kind of changes this whole thing from a nearly guaranteed KES victory to, well, I guess Ishii & Yano retaining. If you care who the IWGP heavyweight tag team champions are that makes one of us, by the way. Prediction: Ishii & Yano

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title Match
Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs. Dragon Lee

Joe Lanza: This is obviously going to be great, and is the frontrunner for match of the night. I’d like to see Dragon Lee win and stick around for a while, but Hiromu has been ultra protected so it doesn’t feel like the right time to beat him. After being gone for years, this is the first of many fresh matches he has in front of him, so the right booking move is to keep him strong and move the next challenger into the picture. It should be noted that Hiromu’s match at Wrestle Kingdom was lumped in as one of the “big four” bouts, and now he’s working semi main event in Osaka. He’s someone they are getting behind in a big way. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi

Aaron Bentley: All roads lead to another confrontation between Takahashi and KUSHIDA. This feud has been a superb distraction, and a great way to freshen up that rematch, but there’s no question where this ends. Similarly lacking in suspense is whether this match is going to be great. Their contests are not always in the style I prefer, but they are always fast paced and action-filled, so they have a high floor. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi

John Carroll: Hiromu is already a star but it’s pretty obvious they’re using this run as his launching pad to even bigger and better things- I would bet you money right now he’s a heavyweight by the end of 2018, if not sooner. He has a very unique look that’s already getting him a great deal of attention from New Japan’s sizable female fan base (this matters more than you probably think it does, by the way) and his in-ring wrestling is fantastic to boot, so he’s really already turning into the complete package. Dragon Lee gives us high-flying action and an awesome overdubbed theme song, so he’s another guy who has it all. Anyway, yeah, I wouldn’t have Hiromu lose just yet either. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to wipe up my drool from thinking about how good this match is gonna be…. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi

IWGP Intercontinental Title Match
Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Michael Elgin

Joe Lanza: The word on wrestling dark web is Naito loses here, to free him up to beat Okada for the big belt at Invasion Attack or Dominion. That feels too familiar to last year, unless that’s the start of Naito’s big run with the title, a move I wouldn’t make right now with Okada delivering at the gate and Naito doing the same on the opposite shows. Why fix what isn’t broken? I’m not sure Big Mike is ready to headline important shows, so unless the plan is to get the IC title off of Elgin before it’is needed to headline something big again, I’m going against the insider money. Naito wins here, continuing his vital but unfairly shit on role as Nakamura 2.0. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

Aaron Bentley: Elgin has never beaten Naito. They’ve faced off three times (including a War of the Worlds 2015 meeting), and Naito always emerges victorious. The ROH/NJPW show isn’t canon, and the other two match results made sense because of Elgin’s place on the totem pole for each of those bouts. At the first New Beginning show, though, when Elgin’s team (which included Hiroshi Tanahashi) was introduced, Elgin was introduced last and clearly presented as the biggest deal. Big Mike’s unfortunate orbital injury probably paused a nice little push for him, but the New Japan fans are still warm for him. Honestly, it’s not a bad story to have him conquer the man who put him out of action, but can Elgin headline shows? He previously won this title, but it was right before the G1, so his only title defense was his eventual loss to Naito. If the plan is for an eventual Tokyo Dome match between a face Naito and a heel Okada, it might be time to find out whether Elgin can carry this particular torch.  Prediction: Michael Elgin

John Carroll: I think Elgin is winning this, and I’ll tell you why: if the plan is to eventually get this belt on Katsuyori Shibata (and I think it probably is), why waste Shibata-Naito just yet? Why not hold that arrow in your quiver and let Shibata’s big IC title win come over Elgin instead? So yeah, I think Big Mike is going to get his revenge here over Naito for breaking his orbital bone and generally beating him like a drum over the last year or so, and then he’ll be a transitional champion to get the belt onto Shibata while Naito (apparently) goes on to bigger and better things. Either way though, this match should be great. Their match during the otherwise lackluster Destruction tour last fall was outstanding, a forgotten gem, so I’m expecting this one to be at least just as good, if not even better. The Osaka crowd always helps. Prediction: Michael Elgin