New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Year Dash 2018
January 5, 2018
Watch: NJPW World
Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Yuji Nagata, & Manabu Nakanishi def. Tomoyuki Oka, Shota Umino, Ren Narita, & Tetsuhiro Yagi
The show kicked off with an entertaining opening contest that featured all four of the New Japan Dads taking on most of the current young lion class (minus Kitamura and Kawata). This was a ton of fun to watch from start to finish. The team of young lions jumped the legends to start the match, and there were a couple of moments where they had the advantage. In particular, Oka (who was the most over of the young lions in this one) and Umino got some moments to shine against Nagata and Kojima, respectively. Ultimately, despite their best efforts, the young lion team came up short (as expected) when Kojima pinned Umino after a lariat. Bouts that involve a team of young lions (preferably more than two) facing off against a team of legends are always enjoyable, and when you combine that with a lively crowd in Korakuen Hall, you’re guaranteed to have a good time. ***
Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Taichi, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Taka Michinoku, & Takashi Iizuka vs. Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Tiger Mask, Hirai Kawato, Toa Henare, & Togi Makabe
Seeing this match on the lineup wasn’t a total surprise. The night before in the New Japan Rumble, Liger and Tiger Mask got into it with the Suzuki-gun juniors, and in the mele, I believe a couple of masks (specifically the ones belonging to El Desperado and Tiger Mask) got ripped off, leading to their respective eliminations. This bout also featured Toa Henare, who appears to have taken the David Finlay path of graduating from young lion status without going on the traditional excursion. I like his new look, but I’m not exactly sure where he goes from here, especially when you consider how Finlay has been used since his graduation. I suppose you could have those two team up (It’s not like Finlay is doing anything important right now), or they even continue the Henare/Togi Makabe team that was established in the World Tag League (again, it’s not like Makabe has done anything significant in the last year either).
Anyway, the babyface side didn’t waste any time here, as they attacked the Suzuki-gun team almost immediately. The first few minutes featured a big brawl on the outside which, of course, is typical for a multi-man tag involving Suzuki-gun. We got some decent action in the ring, but we still got a ton of shenanigans. The babyface side did get their shots in, but for the most part, Suzuki-gun ran roughshod. Eventually Kawato at a bunch of moves in succession before getting pinned by El Desperado. He then got hit with Iizuka’s iron fingers afterwards, and had to be carried to the back. Nothing spectacular in this one, but it was a continuation of the Liger/Tiger Mask vs. Suzuki-gun juniors feud. **1/2
Katsuya Kitamura Trial Series – Match #1 – “Switchblade” Jay White def. Katsuya Kitamura
The only singles bout on the entire card marks the official beginning of a seven match trial series for the 2017 Young Lion Cup winner. Kitamura’s first opponent ended up being Jay White, who came up short against Hiroshi Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 12. This was a pretty solid start to the Trial Series. Kitamura proved to be a challenge for White early on, but the momentum completely shifted in White’s favor after he targeted the knee of Kitamura. He did manage to mount a comeback, but Kitamura ultimately fell short after getting hit with Blade Runner. While this wasn’t quite as good as the opener, this was a fine match for the time it was given. White was a good pick for Kitamura’s first opponent in this trial series, as it allowed him to bounce back with a win following his loss the night before. As for Kitamura, I’m very excited to see who he ends up facing in the rest of the trial series. Right now, I’m assuming that these will be his last set of matches in New Japan before he departs for his excursion, since he’s already made it clear that he plans to go on excursion to North America this year. As I type this, it’s still unknown where the rest of the trial series bouts will take place, but hopefully he’s matched up against some exciting opponents. **3/4
The Elite (Kenny Omega & The Young Bucks) def. Cheeseburger & Roppongi 3K (with Rocky Romero)
It’s always fun to see Cheeseburger in New Japan. I mentioned this during my appearance on the episode of Wrestling Omakase that covered ROH’s 2017, but Cheeseburger has to the be the most successful ROH Dojo graduate in history. Just think about it for a minutes. He’s wrestled in the Tokyo Dome three times (granted, they were all New Japan Rumble appearances, but that still counts), shared the ring with the Japanese wrestling legends, and was even an honorary member of Team 2000 in a Ten-Man Tag. I don’t think the likes Rhett Titus, Shane Hagadorn, Bobby Dempsey, and Pelle Primeau (just to name a few) come even close to Cheeseburger’s accomplishments. Anyway, he’s teaming here with Roppongi 3K (who he’s very familiar with, as he had a number of interactions with them in ROH over the last year or so) to take on The Elite, who were feeling the effects from their matches the night before. Matt Jackson was limping around with pieces of tape all over his back, while Omega had his head and mid-section all wrapped up. I had a feeling that this would be a more light hearted affair, and that’s exactly what it ended up being. This was a fairly entertaining six-man tag that featured some fun moments. Matt Jackson and YOH played up their back injuries in a funny exchange early on, while Cheeseburger got the chance to shine on a few occasions. It’s amazing to see how over he really is whenever he comes over. At one point, when Omega squared off with Cheeseburger, Omega actually got a small smattering of boos, which just shows how popular this underdog from ROH really is whenever he shows up in New Japan. While he did get to hit a few Shotei Palm Strikes, Cheeseburger got pinned after an Indytaker (with an assist from Omega). For what it was, and given the pain a lot of these guys were in, this was a perfectly fine match. ***
The Bullet Club (Cody, “The Villain” Marty Scurll, Yujiro Takahashi, Chase Owens, & Leo Tonga with Brandi Rhodes) def. Taguchi Japan (Ryusuke Taguchi, Kota Ibushi, KUSHIDA, Juice Robinson & David Finlay)
Honestly, I don’t have a ton of things to say about this one, as it was basically a setup for what happened in the segment afterwards. It was an enjoyable ten-man tag that featured solid action throughout, and a couple of fun spots, including Taguchi Japan hitting a five person dropkick at one point. If you take out Cody and Kota Ibushi, you’d pretty much have a typical multi-man tag that you can see on any “Road To….” event. However, given the guys involved, you knew it would be a decent match, at the very least. The Bullet Club ultimately got the win after Cody got Finlay to tap out to his submission move, called American Nightmare. This worked well for its spot on the card, but again, it mainly served to lead to what followed. ***1/4
As soon as the match ended, Cody immediately went after Kota Ibushi. He threw Ibushi back in the ring, and went to attack him with a chair, but Kenny Omega ran out (to a thunderous ovation) and stopped him. The two got into a shoving match, and had to be separated by their Bullet Club stablemates. There was some tension between these two over the summer (with the “throwing in the towel” stuff), but I believe this was their first major confrontation. It’s been speculated for some time that a Cody vs. Kenny Omega match was going to happen eventually, and it appears (based on what happened here) that we’re definitely heading in that direction. It was also a reminder of the Ibushi/Omega relationship (which the crowd was definitely aware of), and while Omega made the save for Ibushi here, we all know that it’s only a matter of time before they have their big singles encounter in New Japan. With the recent rumors of Ibushi being on ROH’s Supercard of Honor XII in New Orleans (along with Cody and Omega), and the upcoming Strong Style Evolved event in Long Beach, we’ll probably see more developments with these stories in the coming months.
The other Bullet Club members then left the ring as Omega took the mic (which didn’t work at first). He said that he’s sick of the infighting in The Bullet Club. They haven’t been whole in a long time, and they need to be united. Omega said he knows exactly what The Bullet Club needs, and calls out “Switchblade” Jay White. After White came out to the ring, Omega talked about how he always knew that he had potential, and added that White reminded him of 2015 Kenny Omega. He calls White the complete package, and gives him a Bullet Club T-Shirt, welcoming him to the group. After thinking about it for a few seconds, White decides to put on the T-Shirt. He poses with Omega, but then suddenly hits him with Blade Runner! He quickly exits the ring as Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi come to Omega’s aid. White then throws the signature Bullet Club T-Shirt away as he exits.
Obviously this segment laid the groundwork for a Kenny Omega/Jay White feud over the IWGP United States Title. If I had to guess, that match could potentially happen on one of the New Beginning events, but it could also end up being on that Strong Style Evolved show in Long Beach. It may be a bit early to say this, but I have a feeling that Jay White might be the one to take the title from Omega. Even though the IWGP United States Title has been in a ton of high profile spots since its inception (mainly due to Omega), I feel like it’s still a slight notch below the IWGP Intercontinental Title, in terms of prestige. With White coming up short against Hiroshi Tanahashi, this seems like the next logical step for him. Plus, I don’t think you can have White lose two big title matches in a row, so if I had to make a bet now, I say he takes the title from Omega which, in turn, could free up Omega to do other things.
Then there’s the fact that White turned down a spot in The Bullet Club. It’s pretty cool that we have someone in New Japan that doesn’t want to be associated with any faction (that changed, but I’ll get to that shortly). Over the past few years, we’ve gotten used to seeing new talents get immediately slotted into one of the current factions, whether that be returning young lions (Hiromu Takahashi, Roppongi 3K) or new names from overseas (Will Ospreay, Zack Sabre Jr., Marty Scurll). Having someone openly decide to be a loner was pretty cool to see. I had my doubts about how long that would last, especially since multi-man tags make up the majority of the matches a regular New Japan roster member will have in a given year, and those doubts were soon proven to be correct. A day after this show, it was announced in a special press conference that Jay White would be joining CHAOS. Initially, I was confused by the move, but when I heard some of the comments White made during the press conference (he made it clear that CHAOS was just a means to an end in his battle against The Bullet Club), it seemed to make more sense. He has his motivations, and it’ll be interesting to see how he interacts with the rest of CHAOS in the coming months, since we know this relationship isn’t going to last.
NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Titles – The Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale & The Guerrillas of Destiny) def. CHAOS (Beretta, Tomohiro Ishii, & Toru Yano)
Well, after LIJ seemingly held them for what felt like an eternity (with these titles, seven months might as well be an eternity), the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Titles have finally gotten back to their roots of short reigns with title changes occurring with without rhyme or reason. Just twenty-four hours after winning a gauntlet match at Wrestle Kingdom 12 to capture the titles, the CHAOS trio of Beretta, Tomohiro Ishii, & Toru Yano immediately lost them back to Bad Luck Fale & The Guerrillas of Destiny, who were the original champions going into that aforementioned gauntlet match. The match itself was relatively good. After the opening few minutes, The Bullet Club team isolated Yano for a bit until Ishii and Beretta made their respective hot tags. We saw another big spot between Fale and Ishii, as the latter managed to lift the former for a massive german suplex. The final minute of the match saw a very cool exchange between Beretta and Tama Tonga, and in the end, Tama Tonga managed to hit Beretta with a Gun Stun to recapture the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Titles. This didn’t exactly stand out from the rest of the bouts on this show in a major way, but it was still pretty solid. It does suck that Beretta’s big moment from the night before was undone so quickly. However, that’s just the nature of these titles, and as always, it’ll be interesting to see which team will step up to the plate next. ***1/4
Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr., & The Killer Elite Squad) def. Hiroshi Tanahashi, “Unbreakable” Michael Elgin, & War Machine
After shaving off most of his hair the night before, Suzuki’s head is now completely bald. Of course, that embarrassing setback didn’t change his mentality, or the mentality of the rest of his group, as they attacked the babyface side before the bell rang. This was a really good eight-man tag. There really weren’t any noticable low points, and once they got back in the ring after the initial brawl on the outside (a prerequisite for all multi-man tags involving Suzuki-gun), there were a number of very solid exchanges. Michael Elgin had a fun back and forth battle with Zack Sabre Jr. at one point, while KES continued their long-running feud with War Machine. While all of that was going on, Suzuki decided to target Tanahashi. He first attacked Tanahashi’s knee with a chair, and then trapped him in a leglock on the outside for the remainder of the match. KES eventually picked up the win for their team after pinning Hanson following a Killer Bomb. That result wasn’t much of a surprise, since it’s well known at this point that War Machine are headed to NXT. As for the match, I would say that it was the best on the show, up to this point. It was entertaining to watch from start to finish. ***1/2
Afterwards, Suzuki rolled Tanahashi back into the ring as he continued the attack on Tanahashi’s knee. He once again used a chair on the knee, and locked in another leglock as any potential aid was held off by the rest of Suzuki-gun. Then, Suzuki took the IWGP Intercontinental Title and cut a brief promo, proclaiming that he’s coming for the title. I would presume that this match will happen on one of the New Beginning events (probably on one of the Sapporo shows), and it’ll be interesting to see what they do here. Suzuki is in a similar position to Jay White, in that I doubt he’s going to lose another big match after a major defeat at Wrestle Kingdom 12. I’m not a betting man, but if I had to put money on it, I’d say there’s a strong chance of Suzuki winning the IWGP Intercontinental Title.
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Hiromu Takahashi, BUSHI, EVIL, & SANADA) def. CHAOS (“Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada, Will Ospreay, Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI, & Gedo)
You really can’t got wrong with a CHAOS vs. LIJ multi-man tag. They always prove to be extremely entertaining, and this match was no different. There was a great opening exchange between Ospreay and Hiromu, a good exchange later on between Okada and Naito, with a ton of fun action mixed in between. We’ve seen versions of this bout so many times, and even though we may be sick of seeing them, they deliver every single time. I was curious to see how the fans would react to Okada and Naito following the surprising result of the main event from the night before. Naito was as over as ever, and got a ton of support from the fans in Korakuen Hall. Okada got support as well, but almost every time a section of the crowd got a significant Okada chant going, it was just drowned out by massive Naito chants. It’s clear that, even though he lost at Wrestle Kingdom 12, Naito is still incredibly popular (in Korakuen Hall, at least). Naito would ultimately score the victory for his team after pinning YOSHI-HASHI following a Destino. This was a fairly good contest (on par with the eight-man tag that came before it), but it was mainly done to set up the post-match angles that would take place. ***1/2
Afterwards, LIJ just decimated CHAOS, and appeared to set up some big title matches for the New Beginning tour. Hiromu took out Ospreay with the Time Bomb, EVIL took out Goto with the STO, and when it looked like Naito was going to take out Okada, he allowed SANADA to do it instead. SANADA hit Okada with a TKO, and made him pass out to the Skull End. Having Hiromu challenge Ospreay for the Jr. Heavyweight Title isn’t a total shock, but it was interesting to see the current IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions being positioned as top challengers for singles titles (though, as Okada would later suggest, they’ll have to give him a tag title shot in return). Even though Naito failed to capture the IWGP Heavyweight Title, LIJ appeared to be stronger than ever.
Then, just when it looked like the show was over, Chris Jericho ran out and attacked Naito! It took LIJ, Roppongi 3K, and a bunch of young lions to separate the two. Of course, these two had issues with each other prior to Wrestle Kingdom 12. Naito wasn’t too pleased about the whole “double main event” idea, while Jericho continued to proclaim over and over again that his fight with Omega was the true main event. It’s great to see that Jericho is sticking around for at least one more match in New Japan, as his presence will continue to gather more attention for them. As for Naito, many of us were wondering where Naito would go after his loss to Okada. Well, this is certainly a great next chapter for him, and I’m sure the eventual match between the two will be very exciting, wherever it happens.
From an in-ring perspective, this really wasn’t that much different from your typical Korakuen Hall show. That’s not a slight against it necessarily, as I don’t think a lot of people went into this show expecting great matches (especially from those who were involved in the big matches the night before). While the top two matches were clearly the best on the card, there was a lot of news coming out of this show, in terms of developments and future angles. Katsuya Kitamura started his seven match trial series, the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Titles changed hands once again, another wrinkle was added to the Ibushi/Cody/Omega triangle, Jay White and Minoru Suzuki made their intentions clear, LIJ staked their claim to singles gold, and Chris Jericho looks to be set for another big match in New Japan. A ton of stuff was set up here, and it’ll be fascinating to see how everything unfolds as 2018 rolls on.