New Japan Pro Wrestling
Big Pro-Wrestling Festival 2018
January 3rd, 2018
Watch: NJPW World
While this event is known for verbal sparring that occurs between all of the participants in the bouts on the Wrestle Kingdom card, it also features a couple of bonus matches involving those who weren’t on the main show. This year, New Japan presented three interesting tag team encounters which saw three regular teams of New Japan legends split up, with each individual legend being paired with one of the young lions. It’s always fun to see legends mix it up with the young lions, and the lineup presented here was no different.
Tiger Mask & Ren Narita def. Jushin “Thunder” Liger & Tetsuhiro Yagi
Narita got things going right away when he nailed Liger in the face with a forearm strike before the bell even rang. Not only that, but Narita actually dominated the first minute or so of the match as he just went to town on Liger with forearm strikes. Once Liger was able to recover, he was not pleased, and from that point, he was obsessed with getting his hands on Narita at every opportunity. Liger was not a happy camper after that initial attack, and he even kicked Yagi a couple of times when he was getting beaten up by Tiger Mask. That story helped lift this match a little bit. It was fully expecting a totally average tag team affair, and while this was never going to be stand out as being something amazing, it did give this some heat, which is cool to see. In addition to that, we saw some fun exchanges between Liger and Tiger Mask, along with Narita and Yagi. Tiger Mask would ultimately get the win for his team after pinning Yagi. ***
Afterwards, Liger attacked Narita, throwing him into the barricade on the outside. Even when the match ended, Liger still wanted a piece of Narita.
Satoshi Kojima & Katsuya Kitamura def. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Tomoyuki Oka
It’s very rare that we see TenKoji paired against each other on opposite sides in a tag team bout, so I’m sure it’s a particularly cool site for those who have been following New Japan (or, at the very least, the careers of these two men in particular) for a long time. In fact, we didn’t have to wait long, as they started the match against each other. While it didn’t have the heat that was present in the first bout, it was just as good. Kitamura and Oka had some fun interactions in the ring, as did Kojima and Tenzan. At one point, Kojima used Tenzan’s Mongolian Chops against him (he does the Mongolian Chops in almost all of his matches anyway), and it looked like we were going to see Tenzan hit Kojima with his own lariat (he even ripped off the elbow pad like Kojima does), but it was broken up when Oka wanted to tag in. Kojima then had a decent little exchange with Oka before ultimately pinning him with his signature lariat. Again, this was a perfectly solid tag team encounter. Unfortunately, Kojima and Kitamura aren’t going to be a regular duo (for obvious reasons), which sucks, because it would be so cool to see them as a team in the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Title picture. They even have their own tandem pose for crying out loud!! ***
Yuji Nagata & Hirai Kawato def. Manabu Nakanishi & Shota Umino
The last tag team bout of the evening saw Nagata and Kawato pick up a victory over Nakanishi and Umino. This was a slight notch below the previous two tag team bouts, but it wasn’t that far behind. Things did slow down for a bit when Nakanishi was in there for a prolonged period of time, but when it was either Nagata vs. Umino, or the young lions going up against each other, the match was pretty solid. Kawato is always entertaining to watch, and Umino is slowly but surely coming along (while also getting a little thicker). The two of them actually had a really nice opening sequence to kick off the match, and they had some fun striking exchanges later on. Kawato would get the win for his side after pinning Umino. Again, I would say that this was (technically) the worst of the three tag team bouts on this show, but it was still a perfectly fine match. **3/4
Nagata cut a brief promo afterwards to close out the show.
One thing that I really enjoyed about all three of these matches is that they all got time. I’m not sure these bouts would’ve been as solid as they ended up being if they didn’t get that freedom, as far as the match length is concerned. At nine, ten, or eleven minutes, you have the opportunity to do more, and everyone involved on this mini-card certainly took advantage of that. You don’t need to go out of your way to see these, but if you’re a New Japan completist who needs to watch everything the company puts out, or if you’re just someone who really enjoys watching the development of the young lions, then I would say it’s worth checking out.