New Japan Pro Wrestling
March 6, 2017
Ota Ward Gymnasium
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Meet our previewers:

  • Rich Kraetsch: The patriarch of this here website, managing editor, co-host of the VOW Flagship podcast who recently turned 30-years-old and is very depressed by it. Follow him @VoicesWrestling.
  • John Carroll: Look, John is on every single one of these damn things, if you don’t know them by now you never will. Follow them @toshanshuinla if you like bad things.
  • Andy LaBar: Once ran through all WWF No Mercy 64 Championship Modes with Al Snow. Has been a frequent guest on the Burning Spirits Podcast, likes to write about old dudes beating each other up and can be found awkwardly ending threads on twitter @trillyrobinson.

Hirai Kawato & Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Tiger Mask & Tomoyuki Oka

Rich Kraetsch: The progression of your standard New Japan young lion is completely unpredictable. Guys like Henare—who is out indefinitely with an achilles injury—seemed to get better by the match. Oka, at the advanced age of 25, is moving along slowly but still holds the most potential of any member of the current crop. Kawato is somewhere in the middle, you can see the raw pieces and some of the potential but his ceiling is likely “good roster hand.” Regardless of their paths, matches like this are why New Japan’s young talents hit so often. The ability to get in the ring with a legend like Liger and a veteran presence like Tiger Mask is an invaluable learning tool for young wrestlers. Prediction: Hirai Kawato & Jushin Thunder Liger

Andy LaBar: Predicting these openers when the opponents mirror each other is always difficult. Kawato has slightly more matches than Oka, but Benjamin Button Oka is the one the internet (and myself) still think will be a star. Jushin Thunder Liger is probably the best wrestler in the world over the age of 50, but Tiger Mask just came off a hot win on March 1st with Tiger Mask W. By the mere fact that Tiger Mask doesn’t usually win two in a row I can’t give him the win here. Prediction: Hirai Kawato & Jushin Thunder Liger

John Carroll: THE JUNIOR DADS EXPLODE!!! I’m gonna predict the Tiger Dad & Tiger Cub get some momentum going on behalf of tigers everywhere with Tiger Mask pinning Kawato. I dunno why you’d have Oka get pinned by a junior anyway, even though he is a young lion and all…. Prediction: Tiger Mask & Tomoyuki Oka

CHAOS (Gedo, Hirooki Goto, Jado & YOSHI-HASHI) vs. Suzuki-gun (Davey Boy Smith Jr., El Desperado, Minoru Suzuki & TAKA Michinoku)

Rich Kraetsch: So if Bullet Club has #TheElite (Kenny Omega & The Young Bucks) what do we call this, the undoubtedly best four combo of Suzuki-Gun members? Seriously, look how cool this grouping is. Davey Boy Smith, who due to unfortunate circumstances, has the ability to break out on his own, Minoru fuckin’ Suzuki and the old standbys Despy and TAKA. If these four banded together and kicked out those other geeks (Lance Archer can stay, of course), I wouldn’t bate an eye. On the other side you have Gedo and Jado, who are good for a laugh or two but don’t add much positively to matches and two of NJPW’s most underrated and underappreciated talents in Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI. Keep an eye on this match, it may surprise a lot of people. Prediction: Suzuki-Gun

Andy LaBar: This is like the best possible combination of SZKG members to me. You got Minoru needing to look strong going into the New Japan Cup match against Shibata, Davey Boy hopefully attempting to look strong for an eventual NEVER shot against Goto, and the insanity of El Desperado. I’m a TAKA fan, but he could disappear with Jado for most of the match and no one would be mad. I am hoping for some heat and some real hot pairings between Yoshi-Hashi and Suzuki and Goto and Davey Boy. In the grand scheme of things, this match won’t matter too much, but should be pretty hard-hitting for a 2nd match. Prediction: Suzuki-Gun

John Carroll: Yeah Andy is right, this is pretty close to the best possible team SZKG could field right now. There’s no Taichi, no Iizuka, no Kanemaru….tough to complain about that, honestly. If Suzukigun was limited to just everyone in this match + Archer if he wasn’t hurt, I would have much less of a problem with having them around. But uh, anyway. This match is going to be good, yeah. It’s a little weird not having Shibata-Suzuki interacting to continue their hot feud (the only thing of note to happen on New Japan Road, really), but I get that Shibata is busy tonight and all. Goto not getting to defend his NEVER title on a show like this is really unfortunate, though. He and his goofy looking belt just stand out like a sore thumb when they’re not doing anything, like “why does this title exist? Why does Goto have it? What is the point of any of this?” I get that he just defended it against a terrible wrestler on the ROH show but no one cared about that show or that match. Let’s try to throw Goto some more bones here because right now he feels like the European Champion of New Japan. That’s not good, kids. Prediction: Suzukigun

BULLET CLUB (Bad Luck Fale, Kenny Omega, Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. TenKoji (Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima), David Finlay, Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata

Rich Kraetsch: I can’t imagine not enjoying any and all interactions between Kenny Omega and the New Japan Dads. Depending on GOD and Yujiro’s output—I’m confident in GOD, not so much in Yujiro—this could be a hell of a match. Prediction: Bullet Club

Andy LaBar: For all intents and purposes, I have to imagine that the next couple of months are going to be the great Bullet Club and Kenny Omega rebuilding projects. After taking the Fantasticamania and New Beginning tours off, Kenny and his crew had a pretty hot Honor Rising showing, including a couple of really solid main events. I have to imagine Kenny Omega goes into NJC with an unblemished record, this match being one win in many. Prediction: BULLET CLUB

John Carroll: I don’t know why we’re suddenly getting a Bullet Club vs. NJ Dads mini-feud, but I’m 100% here for it. Their match at New Japan Road was fun if way too short, so hopefully they get some extra time here. The BC is over (well, Kenny is over, GOD & Fale are sorta over, and no one cares about Yujiro) and the Dads are over, so over people fighting each other is always a good thing. Prediction: Bullet Club

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Title Match
Roppongi Vice (Beretta & Rocky Romero) (c) vs. Suzuki-gun (Taichi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)

Rich Kraetsch: Why? Why did Taichi have to go and ruin a perfectly good Kanemura/Desperado team. Why does Taichi continue to torment me? What have I done? What have we done? Why? Why? Why? Why… Roppongi Vice is in the midst of one of the better junior tag runs in recent memory with top-notch character work and all-around great in-ring performance. What’s the best way to halt that immediately and ensure everyone leaves unhappy? TAICHI! Why… Prediction: Suzuki-gun

Andy LaBar: Here is where we shit on Taichi. It’s also where Taichi wins a title in New Japan Pro Wrestling. It’s sad to say, but these belts have a tendency to bounce around, and while RPG Vice are doing the best work of their career as of late, and Trent in particular really looking like a breakout star, I feel that the genuine heat that Taichi and Kanemaru generate is enough for Gedo to put the belts on them. I don’t have high expectations for the match, though I imagine both Trent and Rocky to provide some good babyface comedy (probably fending off Iizuka) – it just feels in my gut that SZKG needs SOMETHING around their waist right now, and this is the easiest place for them to get that. I hate it because I love RPG Vice and have voted them #1 tag team the past two years in the Purocast polls, but that damn Taichi, he’s gonna pull something tricky. Prediction: Suzuki-Gun


RPW British Heavyweight Title Match
Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

Rich Kraetsch: On paper, Shibata and Sabre sounds like a dream match. Yet, both times we saw the two battle in 2016, it was disappointing. Of course, disappointment is relative. Do we expect too much from these guys? Did we go in with unrealistic expectations? Perhaps. There also exists a world where guys just don’t have great chemistry with one another. It happens. Either way, Sabre’s debut in NJPW is a big deal. On it’s face, it’s Zack Sabre Jr one of the best technical wrestlers in the world debuting in New Japan Pro Wrestling, that much is known. When you dig deeper, you see just how potential huge this is. I don’t think it’s an accident that Sabre is coming in on the precipice of NJPW’s global expansion and upcoming United States tour. Likewise, Sabre is familiar to NOAH fans and as we’ve seen with guys like Go Shiozaki, Naomichi Marufuji and countless others, former NOAH wrestlers are extremely over in New Japan. Yeah, those guys may carry a little more cache in Japan than Sabre but don’t be surprised if fans more easily take to Sabre than they would your run of the mill gaijin. New Japan can make the debut even more poignant with a huge title win over one of their established stars in Shibata. Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr.

Andy LaBar: Looking back at it, I tend to rate the previous two Shibata/Sabre matches from 2016 a little bit higher than most of my peers. I put both around the 4 star range, but came away from them a little bit disappointed. Here you have two of my ten favorite wrestlers in the world, going at it, mixing styles and only SORT OF delivering the goods. These men can do better, these men will do better, and the excitement is building for this match. Zack has to impress in his debut, we can’t have another Jay Lethal or Adam Cole or Cody Rhodes-type debut. He’s a better wrestler than those 3, but he needs to show the New Japan crowd that he is truly something special, that he is someone that belongs in New Japan and as someone that can go toe-to-toe with the most physical and intimidating that the company has to offer. He needs this debut to be on par with the Will Ospreay debut (or the Will Ospreay/Shibata challenge). I’m staying optimistic, I’ve loved Zack recently and think he will regain this title soon. But not here. Prediction: Katsuyori Shibata

John Carroll: I never saw Shibata/Sabre in the UK (yes yes I know, I’m awful, but I barely have enough time to keep up with my Japanese promotions, I can’t add another graps island sorry) so this match is new to me. It would shock me if this match isn’t good though, just knowing both guys, and it has the potential to be pretty great if everything clicks correctly. Now, as far as who wins, I have no idea. Putting Sabre over Shibata would definitely get people to notice him immediately (and from what I’ve read it’s what RevPro were building toward anyway?) plus free Shibata up to do whatever else he is going to do over the next few months (IC title challenge maybe?), but at the same time do you really want to put a guy who was presented as a junior in NOAH for years over Shibata? I dunno. I’m gonna go with my gut and say Sabre wins but I could see this one going either way, to be quite honest with you. Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr.

IWGP Tag Team Title Match
CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) (c) vs. Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma)

Rich Kraetsch: Like my mini-Taichi breakdown above, I just can’t do it with Toru Yano anymore. I just can’t. The same formula, the same schtick, the same bullshit over and over and over and over. He drags everything around him down like a giant, puffy, bleached blonde, fruit-salad looking black hole. Yano has made me no longer care about Tomohiro Ishii. That takes a lot of work and a number of low blows to pull off. I’ll have all fingers and all toes crossed that Great Bash Heel takes the titles back and Ishii says “It’s not you, it’s me” and never teams with Yano again. Optimism is all we have. Prediction: Great Bash Heel

Andy LaBar: Looking back at the last few months, GBH has had sort of an unheralded string of excellence when not placed in big multi-man clusters. They had a solid, and occasionally GREAT World Tag League, coming out of that tournament as convincing and seemingly deserving winners, and they’re coming off a really solid bout with the champs at the Togi Makabe 20th Anniversary show. Matches between these two teams obviously shine when it is Ishii and Honma going at it, and Yano will stop them from being all-time ring classics, but this is still a feud that I’m pretty excited about in a division that is flat as can be. I have got to think whoever wins here is going to be challenged by War Machine next, who has been looking great and absolutely deserves to be the big Gaijin team in New Japan. It’s sort of a coin flip, but I’m going with a title change here. Prediction: Great Bash Heel

John Carroll: I’m gonna put as much effort into previewing and predicting this match as Gedo puts into booking this entire division, which is to say none at all. I flipped a coin and CHAOS won. Good for them, they get to job to War Machine next month! Prediction: CHAOS

Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, KUSHIDA & Michael Elgin vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito)

Rich Kraetsch: I get it when people say they are bored by the endless stream of LIJ multi-man tag matches. I offer a rebuttal though — find me a better unit in wrestling. Find me a better collection of talents that play so well off one another. Find me a more diverse grouping of styles, personas and characters that can somehow blend perfectly together and result in a match that at times feels intentionally disjointed while at the same time feeling perfectly symbiotic. LIJ has become masters of the multi-man tag and though the booking has become mundane to some, i’ll still enjoy it each and every time. Oh yeah, BUSHI is taking the fall here, sorry, pal. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, KUSHIDA & Michael Elgin

Andy LaBar: From a booking perspective, this match comes down to one big matchup: Hiroshi Tanashi, the ACE OF THE WORLD and “The King Of Darkness” EVIL. It’s a weird pairing, but it’s been a heated feud in the last month and this match will serve as another moment building up to their New Japan Cup match. While I expect both Juice and Elgin to do well in the NJC, they are matching up with Bullet Club members in the first round. Going with Gedo booking, I think Tanahashi and friends win this one – because I have some wishful thinking that EVIL somehow beats the Ace in the New Japan Cup. It should be a really fun match, whatever the outcome is – LIJ rarely disappoints in these settings. Prediction: Tanahashi & Friends

John Carroll: The neverending Naito 8- and 10-man tag series continues, and if you haven’t gotten your fill of it yet you’re gonna get even more of it on the New Japan Cup tour! Hell yeah! Naito is learning what Nakamura learned before him: the “white belt” is often no fun. He at least tries a bit harder than Nak usually did in these tag matches, though, you gotta give him that. Anyway yes this is all about the Tanahashi-EVIL hype as the Road to EVIL’s First Round Loss continues. Think Juice-o-Mania is gonna continue to run wild here via a pinfall win over BUSHI. Prediction: Tanahashi & Juice & KUSHIDA & Elgin

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title Match
Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs. Ryusuke Taguchi

Rich Kraetsch: I used to be a card carrying member of the Ryusuke Taguchi Hate Club but I finally got him about a year or so ago. He’s a goofball, an unabashed, self-aware clown that just tries to crack a smile in this wild world of puroresu. Yet, when the bell rings and it’s time to be serious, Taguchi can go with the best of them. Once you have the capability of ignoring some of his playful traits and look at what he can do inside the ropes, you’ll begin to appreciate him a little more yourself. It doesn’t happen often but when Taguchi is placed in big time matches, he always delivers. Often, he drops the comedy, drops the playful dancing and gets down to business. He’s not going to win but don’t be surprised if at least four or five times in the final few minutes of this match you jump off your couch thinking Taguchi just pulled off the upset of the century. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi

Andy LaBar: It seems like it’s time for the twice a year Taguchi-push and hot feud, which I’m happy with – so long as someone can post some .gifs of Taguchi and his rapid-tongue-movement. Listen, if you’re not in on the Hiromu train, I just don’t know what to do with you. He’s reckless, he’s wild and he’s so god damn fresh. Taguchi is NEVER fresh, but Taguchi can work with anyone and this match should be no different. I wouldn’t be surprised if this winds up being the match of the night, if Taguchi the super-worker comes out. We might also get Taguchi: King of Mind Games and this could wind up completely bizarre. Unless you’re nuts, you have to think that Hiromu is holding this title for a while, no one even seems in his league. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi

John Carroll: This match is going to rule so hard. Anyone who’s worried that Ryusuke Taguchi might not deliver here needs to watch last year’s BOSJ finals and get back to me, thanks. This will be totally different than Hiromu’s last title match with Dragon Lee, but different is okay! Hiromu doesn’t need to almost kill himself to have a good match, because he also has a ridiculous amount of natural charisma that makes you wanna watch him anyway, so I hope he follows Taguchi’s lead and slows things down a little here. Please, man. I am asking you nicely. Anyway Taguchi’s ankle lock should be over as hell here if the people attending have seen any of the build-up, and I can’t wait to watch Hiromu’s crazed selling of it in an actual title match. No chance he loses here, though. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi

Kazuchika Okada vs. Tiger Mask W

Rich Kraetsch: The last time these two battled was strangely enough, at NJPW’s 42nd anniversary show in March 2014, in a solid match that built off their super-fun DDT Sumo Hall match in August 2013. That’s it. This has been a shockingly protected match and would’ve been a bigger deal at this point had Kota Ibushi not left NJPW last year—or if he wasn’t wearing a Tiger Mask now as opposed to, you know, being Kota Ibushi. On the bright side, Tiger Mask got himself a new… Tiger Mask and it looks to fit way better. Ibushi had publicly bitched about the mask last year and surprise, surprise, he came out on the New Japan Road show with brand new digs. I think part of that was New Japan not really being sure if Kota Ibushi was going to hang around in the role. Now a few matches deep, it looks like Ibushi is here to stay which is great news for everyone involved. I’m eager to see if we get the old, classic Ibushi here. It’s been quite awhile since we’ve seen THAT guy go out and kill it in a major match. After a year or so of fucking around, the highlight of Ibushi’s “freelance” run came stateside in WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic. In Japan, though, the special attraction of Ibushi often amounted to nothing more than a balcony moonsault. With Okada’s continued improvement and Ibushi’s potential, this has all the makings of an all-time classic. If and only if these two are determined to do so. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada

Andy LaBar: Kota Ibushi was my favorite wrestler of 2015. Kazuchika Okada was my favorite wrestler of 2016. “They” are facing each other in 2017 in a match that is actually a lot more difficult to predict that I would have thought. The Tiger Mask W anime seems like a pretty big success so far, at least over here in the States, and the story that is told in that show is that Tiger Mask has this resolve that no one can really conquer. He’s young and brash, but is able to tap into his training and discipline when he needs to (hey, that sounds an awful like Okada). The fact that this is a non-title match means that Tiger Mask W has a much larger chance to sneak out a victory here, but at the same time we are talking about the de-facto champion of wrestling against an anime character. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was something screwy that happens here, but I will be surprised if this match is something short of awesome. I think this remains a throwaway in the long-term booking of NJPW – so I’m going with the champ staying on top. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada

John Carroll: I don’t have a lot to say about this match other than it’s going to happen and it will probably be pretty good, but anyone expecting an all-time classic is going to be disappointed. Tiger Mask W is Kota Ibushi, but he’s also not Kota Ibushi. This isn’t Okada vs. Ibushi, it’s Okada vs. Tiger Mask W, and if you don’t get what the difference is it’s that Ibushi having to wrestle within the confines of this character just isn’t the same thing. Again, this match will probably be like ***½ at a minimum and could easily get above ****, so I don’t want to sound like it will be awful or anything, but anyone who sees it as OKADA-IBUSHI WOW THIS IS ***** GUARANTEED is honestly not understanding what we’re actually getting here. Anyway. Okada wins this match, I don’t know why he wouldn’t unless you wanna try Okada-TMW as a title match later (uh, I would not advise that). Prediction: Kazuchika Okada