New Japan Pro Wrestling
The New Beginning in Sapporo
January 27, 2018
Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center Hokkai Kitayell

Watch: NJPW World

Meet our previewers:

  • Alex Wendland: As one of VOW’s longest tenured editors, Alex has extensively covered NXT as well as NJPW, ROH and WWE. Find him lamenting Liverpool FC and complaining about Costco no longer carrying La Croix @AlexWendland.
  • Taylor Maimbourg: Taylor has spent this week preparing for the biggest show of January. That’s right, YMZ’s New Year’s Day show drops on Friday, and as YMZ’s biggest American fan, he’s pumped. After reading this great preview, head over to Twitter, and follow @tamaimbo, which will soon be chock full of quality YMZ content.
  • John Carroll: Host of Wrestling Omakase (@wrestleomakase) and founding co-host of Open the Voice Gate (@openvoicegate), right now John is obsessed with Pop Team Epic. Please watch it. You can follow them on Twitter @toshanshuinla if you need a little more weeb garbage in your life.

Katsuya Kitamura 7 Match Trial Series: Michael Elgin vs Katsuya Kitamura

Alex Wendland: This is going to be a long series for Kitamura. His loss to Jay White at New Year Dash was the first of this series and while pretty much all the matches should be good, I can’t imagine they’ll be particularly successful for the big young lion. Still no word on the Michael Elgin contract situation; a loss to Katsuya Kitamura would not bode well for Big Mike’s New Japan future. Prediction: Michael Elgin

Taylor Maimbourg: Kitamura’s match against Jay White at New Year Dash seemed more set up to get White his heat back rather than boosting the stock of Kitamura, so it will be interesting to see how these matches go now that they now seem focused solely on Kitamura. Kitamura is still a young lion, but the idea of a trial series is new, and I still don’t have a solid idea of the purpose of these matches. Will they just be extended squashes designed to get Kitamura some in-ring experience? Or is there a larger design to boost Kitamura up the card with these matches? I think this first match will go a long way in showing where exactly Kitamura is headed. Either way, it’s hard to see Kitamura picking up a win in match two of seven. Prediction: Michael Elgin

John Carroll: Kenzo Suzuki went 0-4 in his trial series, being defeated by the likes of Kensuke Sasaki, Tenryu & Koshinaka in a tag match, Yuji Nagata, and Scott Norton. Kitamura has 3 more chances than Kenzo, but I’m betting the number of wins will be exactly the same. Let’s hope their career parallels end there. Prediction: Michael Elgin

Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Tiger Mask & KUSHIDA vs Takashi Iizuka, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Taichi, El Desperado & TAKA Michinoku

Alex Wendland: Maybe it was an intense disinterest in the World Tag League, but it feels like Takashi Iizuka came back in 2018 even though no one asked for it. Cash those checks, big man. All of this reeks of time-filling placeholder and a way to hide KUSHIDA and keep him away from the Junior Heavyweight title scene. Both teams have a fall guy, but this time I’m taking the heels. Prediction: Suzuki-Gun

Taylor Maimbourg: This match seems like a good way to set in motion some lower card singles feud for KUSHIDA to keep him away from the title picture for a bit, but New Japan has seemed allergic to doing lower card singles feuds, so that probably won’t happen. Other than that, this seems like a match designed to get some fan-friendly names onto the card in a standard undercard match. With Kojima rupturing his ACL, the only mystery will be who replaces him in this match. Prediction: Suzuki-gun

John Carroll: I have previewed probably like 50 of these damn shows and I still have no idea what I’m supposed to be writing for these utterly meaningless undercard tags. Hey, a match will take place. There you go. Prediction: Suzukigun

Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano vs Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens

Alex Wendland: Jesus, can we make a “Find Ishii Something Meaningful” pledge for 2018? What a nothing match for one of the best wrestlers in the world. I get it happening every now and then as a way to occupy a star in the interim (see: KUSHIDA), but Ishii hasn’t had anything to sink his teeth into in at least a year. Let the Stone Pit Bull eat! My hope is that some level of Bullet Club chicanery leads to an Ishii singles opportunity in the coming months. Outside of that, this match is going to serve little and less purpose. Prediction:Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano

Taylor Maimbourg: I’ll admit it: I like the tag team of Ishii and Yano. I wish that Ishii could be higher up the card all the time, but in a company with so much talent, that’s not always possible, so I like that he can be in a regular tag instead of hidden in a ten man tag or something similar. Also, as one of the few remaining people who likes Yano, I like the interplay between Ishii and Yano. One serious and one goof. That’s fun. Does this match mean much in the long run? Probably not, but maybe one these teams gets a tag title shot, so possibly! We’ll see. Prediction: Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano

John Carroll: See, the thing about Ishii is that he can always be slotted down the card, but the moment he sticks his no-neck into the upper card scene he’ll always get the crowd going again because that’s just the kind of wrestler he is. It’s not like Hirooki Goto when Goto was doing this bottom of the card tag duty in the fall last year; Goto in that position feels vaguely sad, like you know his career is supposed to be far above this and yet here he is anyway. Ishii on the other hand is an overachiever, a guy who is such a great worker that it makes up for his other deficiencies (his lack of height, his very plain look in a company that’s right behind DG when it comes to idol good looks mattering, etc.) So when he’s down here on the bottom of the card it just feels like a temporary reversion to the mean, at least to me. He’ll be back up there soon enough, don’t worry. Anyway yeah this is sure a match alright. Prediction: Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano

NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Championship Match
Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa (c) vs Togi Makabe, Toa Henare & Ryusuke Taguchi

Alex Wendland: What the hell happened to Guerrillas of Destiny last year? A bang-up 2016 bled into a surprising and disappointing 2017 run from a match quality standpoint (hard to argue results/push with two IWGP title runs and a couple cracks with the NEVER Openweight 6-man belts), mostly weighed down by bloated multi-team slogs. These 6-man titles could still be something fun if they just, you know, made them fun. Too many of these title matches have been as sloggy as those IWGP multi-man tags when they should be eight-minute sprints. These titles seem to change hands every time they’re defended, but I’d keep them with BC for now. Prediction: Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa

Taylor Maimbourg: Not too long ago, there was a New Japan Young Lion by the name of David Finlay who was given a chance in a 6-Man Tag Title match. His first chance for New Japan gold and he seized the moment and won. This was it! It was his time to rise up the card! The future was ahead of him! Nothing could stop him! Then he lost the belts. And he lost. And lost. And lost. Now, at this show, we have a New Japan Young Lion named Toa Henare who is being giving a chance. His first chance for New Japan gold. Will he win? Knowing the pattern of these belts, probably. My only hope is that his post-victory trajectory is a hell of a lot better than David Finlay’s. Prediction: Togi Makabe, Toa Henare and Ryusuke Taguchi

John Carroll: Don’t let Henare corner you in a room or you might have to hear his thoughts on exports. Anyway, literally who cares about these belts? Who on earth? I know they’re just supposed to be a fun undercard thing but as Alex was saying, the matches themselves really haven’t been all that fun in a little while now. LIJ’s defenses were hit or miss, then they didn’t defend them for months and months, then they lost them to the BC in a very disappointing Korakuen match, then the BC played hot potato with them again. The challenger team is so random that at first blush it might be hard to take them seriously, but then you remember that these are the NEVER six-man belts and literally any three people off the street could win them. So I flipped a coin. Prediction: Togi Makabe, Toa Henare & Ryusuke Taguchi

Kota Ibushi, Juice Robinson & David Finlay vs Cody, Hangman Page & Marty Scurll

Alex Wendland: Big of Cody to slum it through some of these lesser shows to prop up New Japan. For the first time since his Evolve debut, I’m actually interested to see Cody following his surprising and stellar match with Kota Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom. Will he build on it or will he go back to the Cody we saw since leaving the friendly confines of the WWE? The most obvious thing on this entire show is David Finlay taking the fall, but the other four guys in the match have been quite good for awhile now and even Cody’s next performance holds some intrigue. Prediction: Cody, Hangman Page & Marty Scurll

Taylor Maimbourg: This match strikes me as a match much more about story than in-ring performance. We know David Finlay is taking this pin, so the question is what happens between Kota and Cody? Does Cody attack Kota again to try and bring out Kenny Omega for a confrontation? How does the Bullet Club perform as a unit now that there is dissention in the ranks? I’m sure the match will be good, and I’m sure Kota Ibushi will take at least one inadvisable move that makes me worry for his health. But at the end of the day, I’m much more interested to see how this match progresses the Bullet Club-Elite-Cody-Kota-Kenny story. Prediction: The Bullet Club

John Carroll: I’m not ready to declare Cody the next big gaijin star just because he had one (1) great match in his New Japan career, with KOTA IBUSHI of all people. But I’ll be interested to hear his crowd reaction in Sapporo coming off the Dome. Will it revert to the dead silence of every New Japan crowd before Wrestle Kingdom, or does the Ibushi match and actually getting some fans to make some noise for him at the Dome carry over here at all? Of course the other interesting thing is where the Kota-Cody-Kenny storyline goes from here, and whether we start getting some future matches teased…. Prediction: BULLET CLUB

YOSHI-HASHI & Will Ospreay vs Tetsuya Naito & Hiromu Takahashi

Alex Wendland: Tetsuya Naito was a full-on surly prick during Fantasticamania, seemingly having learned his lesson from his Wrestle Kingdom loss. His renewed relentlessness is going to make for some incredible matches this year, and this could be a sleeper on the card with these four being able to work faster, and with more intensity, than any other match on the card. I expect that Naito will score the pin over YOSHI-HASHI, but Hiromu Takahashi could just as well score a fall over Will Ospreay to solidify an upcoming singles defense. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito & Hiromu Takahashi

Taylor Maimbourg: Tetsuya Naito’s post-Wrestle Kingdom journey has been the focus of most New Japan fans (and for good reason), but his stablemate Hiromu has started a similar journey in the new year. After spending the last half of the year goofing off with Daryl and getting embarrassed after every Junior Title match, he seems to have a renewed sense of self and has returned to the unhinged maniac we first saw when Timebomb debuted. Put Naito and Takahashi together in a team and you could have the makings of a sleeper match of the night. I hope that Naito and Hiromu come out and lay waste to both YOSHI-HASHI and Will Ospreay, with Hiromu pinning Ospreay to prove he is ready to take back the title that he deserves. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito and Hiromu Takahashi

John Carroll: As Alex stated, Naito was in full heel mode again during the Fantasticamania tour, right down to beating the shit out of poor Milano Collection AT. It was an interesting sudden turn back to his Ingobernable roots after he had basically been a full on babyface from his G1 win through the Tokyo Dome, but I’m not so sure that it’s a permanent character change just yet. It easily could have been something they did just for the Fantasticamania tour; remember, Suzukigun and BULLET CLUB were both off that tour completely, which left LIJ as basically the top heels by default. Was Naito acting out to impress his Mexican rudo buddy/lover Rush and now will go back to his more babyface-leaning ways of late 2017? Or will the embrace of his heeldom continue even with the CMLL guys gone? I’m excited to find out. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito & Hiromu Takahashi

Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto & Gedo vs SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI

Alex Wendland: NJPW has to do something to better legitimize SANADA’s shot at the IWGP Heavyweight title, and they’ll have to come up with something either on this show or the 1/28 show. Now would be a good chance to give SANADA a pin over the champ leading into their match. That said, there’s a lot of gold in this match and there’s an easy out by having Gedo or BUSHI take the fall if this is going to serve as more of a placeholder to heat up the feud. Prediction: SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI

Taylor Maimbourg: I’m much more interested in this match setting up the upcoming IWGP Tag Title defense than I am in it setting up the IWGP Heavyweight Title match. I don’t think either outcome is in doubt, but the freshness of the tag title match has me pretty pumped. I am also interested to see how New Japan walks the line setting up both matches. Is it more important to get SANADA a pin on Okada to build intrigue for their singles title match, or is it more important for Okada to get a pin to set up the tag title match? I would argue setting up the heavyweight title match is probably more important, but now that I’ve twisted myself into a pretzel about it, I’m sure BUSHI will pin Gedo and this won’t matter. Prediction: SANADA, EVIL and BUSHI

John Carroll: SANADA is nothing more than cannon fodder to get Okada to his 10th IWGP title defense and pretty much everyone on planet earth knows it, so I’m not sure what they could actually do to heat the defense up. I’m much more excited about the fact that this feud is leading to a meaningful IWGP Tag Team Title match, on a Korakuen Hall show of all things, which is the best booking decision Gedo has made in years and I wanted to give him a shoutout for it here since we’re obviously not going to be previewing a Korakuen show. But EVIL-Goto is definitely the more interesting half of the feud, since an actual title change is at least possible there. The best you can hope for out of this quick Okada-SANADA feud is a good match at the end of it, which given the foregone conclusion nature of the result they’ll have to work extra hard to achieve. Prediction: LIJ

Jay White, YOH & SHO vs Kenny Omega, Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson

Alex Wendland: Jay White may have saved a rough return at Wrestle Kingdom with his New Year Dash swerve and if anyone is going to get Switchblade back on the right track, it’s Kenny Omega. At the same time, The Young Bucks and Roppongi 3K have developed a feud that, for me, surpasses the former’s work with Roppongi Vice. Each interaction between these two teams drips with disdain and I’m still looking forward to each one. If Omega takes off his t-shirt, and he might not considering he’s got a title defense the next night, this could easily fall in the **** range. Prediction: Kenny Omega, Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson

Taylor Maimbourg: I’m still not too worried about Jay White, especially now that he’s heading into a match with Kenny Omega. Omega has an innate ability to pull out the best in his opponent, and I’m sure he will make White look like a thousand bucks. As for this match, I’m sure it will be good. I can’t imagine Omega using this match to goof off after White attacked him at New Year Dash, and I think White’s uphill climb for fan approval will make him work even harder. I’m also interested to see how White and Roppongi 3K get along. It’s clear that White in CHAOS is a marriage of convenience, and it could be rocky from the start (pun intended). Prediction: Jay White, YOH & SHO

John Carroll: The Jay White hand-wringing is silly. Yeah, okay, he had a kind of disappointing match with Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom, and that sucks I guess. But let’s not forget who else had a supremely disappointing return match at the Tokyo Dome: Kazuchika Okada, whose match with YOSHI-HASHI at WK6 in 2012 was an unmitigated disaster. And yet that guy turned out okay, last time I checked. White has charisma, he’s a good looking dude (I will harp on this forever until people get it through their heads but this is one of the most important factors in modern NJPW!), and his in ring has been good in the past so I’m sure it will catch up with his new character eventually. All of the post-WK stuff has already been positive for White: the angle with Omega at New Year Dash ruled and it you haven’t been watching the backstage segments and press conferences on Youtube, he’s been killing it there as well. His promos backstage at Dash and his slimey, subtle heel work when Okada introduced him into CHAOS at the press conference was really great. The kid is gonna be fine. Anyway, as for this match, I think you put the CHAOS trio over here to build momentum for all three challengers heading into the show the next day, right? Seems pretty cut and dry to me. Prediction: CHAOS

IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match
Hiroshi Tanahashi © vs Minoru Suzuki

Alex Wendland: What’s the best case scenario for this match? Why is this match happening? After spending four or five months questioning whether Minoru Suzuki can still go at a NJPW main event level, he definitively proved that he can at Wrestle Kingdom. Still, Suzuki lost his match and fell all the way down the card into…an Intercontinental title main event? Hiroshi Tanahashi, had almost an entirely opposite experience from Suzuki. When the world was anticipating what Tanahashi could put together for January 4 with a brand new opponent in Jay White, the pair almost universally underdelivered. The match was fine, but was among Tanahashi’s most disappointing Tokyo Dome outputs. I suspect this placeholder defense will be competent, but not particularly inspiring and that the champion will retain. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi

Taylor Maimbourg: I’m totally tired of Minoru Suzuki. His NEVER title match formula drove me insane, and now he falls upward into an Intercontinental Title match. I think this match has an equal chance of being great as it does to be absolutely terrible. As John mentions below, there seems to be a build towards another Okada-Tanahashi match, so it appears that Suzuki may be winning here. My number one hope is that because the Intercontinental Title is above the NEVER Title in the pecking order, the Suzuki-gun shenanigans will disappear, and I will be able to enjoy this match without being driven insane by the same formulaic nonsense I’ve been watching for the past months. I know that Suzuki is a great wrestler. But he is a great wrestler when he WRESTLES, not when he plays the guy incapable of winning without help from his ten friends who run out nonstop. As for Tanahashi, after a Wrestle Kingdom match that under delivered, I can imagine he will be hellbent on delivering a great match in this spot. If there is anyone I trust to save this match from ruin, it is Tanahashi, and although I don’t think it happens, I hope he retains here. Prediction: Minoru Suzuki

John Carroll: I have to disagree with Alex pretty strongly here. Look, I understand that Tanahashi and Suzuki are older now, but given the number of outstanding matches the two of them have had together in the past, I have zero doubt they can’t pull another rabbit out of their hat here. Maybe you can take issue with the booking, and yeah it was kind of weird that Suzuki essentially failed his way up to a higher title match than the belt he lost, but ultimately if it results in a really good match here I won’t be able to complain much. And frankly, I think this match will probably be really good. I also think Suzuki is likely winning the title, and here’s why: if they’re gonna do Okada vs. Tanahashi soon, with Tanahashi either looking to prevent Okada from tying his record of 11 IWGP Heavyweight Title defenses in one reign or breaking the record entirely, you probably have to get the IC belt off Tanahashi. I mean, I guess technically you don’t absolutely HAVE to, but if Tana goes into the match as IC Champion it will look even more obvious to people that Okada is winning. So I think Suzuki takes the title here and has a short reign. It’s even possible that Tanahashi loses the belt to Suzuki, challenges Okada some time in the spring (and loses of course), and then wins the belt back from Suzuki at Dominion or something. Could easily see a scenario like that playing out. Either way, as long as the Suzukigun crap is kept to a minimum (always the risk with Suzuki these days), I think this match can still be pretty great, even if they’re probably guaranteed to be directly involved in the finish if Suzuki’s actually winning. Prediction: Minoru Suzuki