New Japan Pro Wrestling
The New Beginning in Sapporo
January 28, 2018
Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center Hokkai Kitayell

Watch: NJPW World

Meet our previewers:

  • Taylor Maimbourg: Taylor is happy to be back for another preview of these New Japan New Beginning shows. If you like to read his words, maybe you would like to hear him speak words on this week’s Wrestling Omakase podcast (@wrestleomakase). Or if you would prefer to stick to the written word, you can follow him on Twitter at @tamaimbo.
  • John Carroll: Whoa, someone else plugged Wrestling Omakase and now John doesn’t know what to do with themself here. You can always follow them on Twitter (@toshanshuinla) or follow their other podcast Open the Voice Gate (@openvoicegate) if you like.

Katsuya Kitamura 7 Match Trial Series: Juice Robinson vs Katsuya Kitamura

Taylor Maimbourg: Of all the matches in the trial series, this is probably the one I am most excited for. Juice Robinson improved by leaps and bounds for the second year in a row in 2017, and even though this match is focused on Katsuya Kitamura, I think this is also a bit of a proving ground for Robinson as well. He’s managed great matches with some of the best talent in New Japan, now how does he do in a match where he is the more talented of the two competitors? 2018 will be an interesting year to see exactly where Juice Robinson’s ceiling is, and this match may be the first indicator of where exactly he is headed. Prediction: Juice Robinson

John Carroll: Juice! Juice! Juice! If anyone on the entire planet earth is a better reflection of how broken WWE is at this current moment in time, it’s Mr. Robinson. He went from a very defined/specific character in NXT that ultimately resulted in him being one of the least popular guys in that brand’s short history to little more than a generic white meat babyface with a penchant for saying his own name in New Japan, and look at how quickly he managed to get over? By mostly LOSING big matches, too! It really does make you wonder how many of their floundering midcard-and-worse acts have this kind of run in them, because the answer is probably higher than you think. Anyway, this should be a really fun match and like Taylor I’m looking forward to it. Prediction: Juice Robinson

Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Tiger Mask, Ryusuke Taguchi & Shota Umino vs Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Taichi, El Desperado & TAKA Michinoku

Taylor Maimbourg: For the second night in a row, we have a seemingly meaningless New Japan/Suzuki-gun tag match near the bottom of the card. There’s a chance that Taguchi is a champion by this point, so maybe having him pinned grants Suzuki-gun a NEVER six-man shot. I’m probably putting too much thought into this, and that’s probably not what’s happening, but it’s the only thing I can think of that gives this match any sort of purpose. Prediction: Suzuki-gun

John Carroll: I enjoy the Suzukigun juniors more than I enjoy, say, Takashi Iizuka or whatever. They’ll be entertaining little scumbags here and I’ve got no problem with it. A guy on the other team to watch is Umino, because along with Oka he’s clearly one of the most important young lions now that Kawato is gone and Kitamura is on his way to joining him. He’s already turned some heads but should start turning even more now that he’ll have more focus on him. Prediction: Suzuikigun

Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano vs Yujiro Takahashi & Hikuleo

Taylor Maimbourg: For the second night in a row, Ishii and Yano tag together, and my suspicion about an upcoming title shot grows. I could easily see them grabbing the victory and parlaying two consecutive tag victories into the next tag title shot after EVIL and SANADA most likely retain their titles against Okada and Goto. If New Japan is more serious about having main eventers cycle into the tag division when they have no plans in singles action, Ishii would be a pretty good choice, and it would continue the long running CHAOS vs. LIJ feud that has been on and off in New Japan since 2016. Prediction: Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano

John Carroll: Yeah, Taylor’s theory makes a lot of sense, so I guess I’ll co-sign it. I know a lot of people hate the Ishii/Yano team and think it’s a huge waste of Ishii or whatever, but I have no problem with them. Yano’s goofy schtick works better in a tag team setting than as a singles contender, and Ishii is as good of a straight man as you can probably find. One has to think they’ll get the win here whether they’re getting a title shot or not, though. Prediction: Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano

Togi Makabe, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Manabu Nakanishi & Toa Henare vs Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, Leo Tonga & Chase Owens

Taylor Maimbourg: Most of these competitors will have been in the NEVER six man title match the night before, and I have a feeling that the outcome of that match will determine how this one goes. Will the New Japan side enter the match as the new champions, or will the Bullet Club enter as successful defenders of their titles? If the New Japan side enters as champions, I can imagine the Bullet Club winning to even the odds and maybe earn a rematch. If the Bullet Club enters as champions, I can see the opposite happening. This is another fairly meaningless lower card match, but the fate of the NEVER titles does add a bit of intrigue. Prediction: The Bullet Club

John Carroll: I took the liberty of changing Kojima to Nakanishi, as I believe it’s been confirmed now that Nakanishi is replacing Kojima on this tour. Anyway, I can’t say I care at all about a meaningless BC-Sekigun eight-man or the fate of the NEVER belts from the prior night, as this is the definition of “just a match”. Prediction: BULLET CLUB

Hiroshi Tanahashi & Michael Elgin vs Minoru Suzuki & Takashi Iizuka

Taylor Maimbourg: At first blush, this struck me as the usual New Japan booking – two competitors in the previous night’s title match face off to put a bow on their feud and also announce a match without giving the previous night’s results away. But then I read about Hiroshi Tanahashi being removed from February’s Australian tour and wondered if there might be more here. Is it possible that Minoru Suzuki beats Tanahashi the night before and then finishes the job here, injuring him and providing a clear cut reason why he can’t be on some of the February shows? Tanahashi is notorious for spending nearly every spring in some state of injury, and having him take a break after losing the title would not be the worst idea. Then, he could return in a bit to challenge Okada for the title and set up the epic showdown as Okada tries to break Tanahashi’s consecutive defenses record. Prediction: Minoru Suzuki and Takashi Iizuka

John Carroll: Damn, Taylor once again laid out a scenario that makes too much sense and I have little option but to just nod like an idiot and agree. Yeah, Tanahashi doing his spring injury bow out here seems very logical, and gives him an excuse to skip the New Japan Cup even if he’s no longer Intercontinental Champion (as I think we both predicted Suzuki wins that belt the night before). Then you bring him out at the end of Sakura Genesis, after Okada has defeated whoever the NJC winner is, for a surprise return and a challenge of the champion who just tied his defense record. Makes way too much sense, but guess we’ll have to wait and see. But with that said, Tana & Elgin don’t have to lose this match to do that angle. They could easily get a pin on Iizuka and then have Suzuki take out Tanahashi in the post-match, which I think is more likely. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi & Michael Elgin

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

Taylor Maimbourg: Another match that strikes me as pretty similar to the night before. And just like the night before, this match seems to serve the sole purpose of advancing the Kota-Kenny-Cody situation, although with Kenny in the main event on this evening, it’s less likely that anything will occur. Also, just the night prior, KUSHIDA enters a match with an opponent who he could have a great singles feud with while he waits to get back into the title picture. It’s pie in the sky booking, but it would be nice to get a #1 contender’s match between KUSHIDA and Scurll instead of just having one of them run out after a title match willy nilly. A man can dream. Prediction: The Bullet Club

John Carroll: Yeah this is way too similar to night 1, I don’t know what else I’m supposed to say here. More Cody-Ibushi stuff. It’ll be fine but you’ll also forget about it within like a day. Prediction: BULLET CLUB

Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI, Will Ospreay & Gedo vs SANADA, EVIL, Tetsuya Naito, Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI

Taylor Maimbourg: The stakes are a bit different, but we’ve seen this match a hundred times. In some ways, that’s a negative, but the matches usually deliver, so this should be pretty good. To me, heating up SANADA for his IWGP Heavyweight Title match would be the number one priority, but it’s possible they focus on the tag title match because it comes first. If SANADA pins Okada on the first night, I could see Goto pinning EVIL here. Like on the first night, this is a match that is going to need to serve many masters, and it will interesting to see what gets the priority in terms of both in-ring action and result. I could see this one going either way. Prediction: CHAOS

John Carroll: Look, they can book these LIJ 10-mans on every other show until the end of time for all I care. That unit has so much chemistry together it’s almost never anything but great. They’ve got plenty of talent standing across the ring from them too of course, so I’m as confident in this match delivering at the level I’m expecting as I am about anything on this whole show. It’ll be interesting to see who gets the win here as we keep moving toward the tag title match at Korakuen and then the two singles title matches in Osaka; ultimately when Gedo’s there I think he’s the easiest person to have take a fall, so I think I’ll ultimately go with LIJ here. Prediction: LIJ

IWGP Jr. Tag Championship Match
The Young Bucks (c) vs Roppongi 3k

Taylor Maimbourg: Roppongi 3K’s return to New Japan has struck me as very similar to EVIL’s return. They both returned to the company with unique gimmicks that didn’t exactly click at first. EVIL’s gimmick seemed a bit outrageous, but he started delivering quality matches and as the gimmick was fine-tuned, everything seemed to click. Roppongi’s gimmick didn’t click at first, but after a superb match with The Young Bucks at Wrestle Kingdom, things seem to be falling a bit more into place. Their undefeated streak to start their careers made them look strong, but it may have created a disconnect between them and the fans, and I think taking the belts off them for a short time may have been the best plan. Now they head into this match as challengers, attempting to overcome the first roadblock in their young careers. It easier for the audience to get behind them, and with that extra juice, a matchup that already produced a great match could now produce an amazing one. Prediction: Roppongi 3K

John Carroll: Roppongi 3K are two hot dudes and two good workers so just like with Jay White I was never really worried about them succeeding in NJPW in the long-term, even though they definitely did seem a bit awkward when they first came in with the gimmick (as Taylor covered above). I’d say it was in the build up to the match with the Young Bucks at the Dome that things started clicking into place for them, which to continue Taylor’s comparison was actually much faster than it took EVIL to get comfortable in his gimmick (then again, EVIL’s gimmick is also way more ridiculous; god bless that MySpace goth). Anyway, as for this here match, I actually think the Bucks are retaining. Yeah, I know they don’t work a lot of NJPW tours, but think about what’s coming up next: you have the New Japan Cup, when you won’t exactly need to have your junior tag champions around, and then right after that is the Strong Style Evolved show in Long Beach. I think it probably makes too much sense for the Bucks to be champions heading into that show and defend them there, though I suppose you could also have R3K win here and do a rubber match for the belts between the two teams there instead. But yeah, I’m gonna go with my gut here and say the Bucks retain and R3K have to wait a while longer to win the belts back again (Sakura Genesis or maybe even Wrestling Dontaku). Prediction: Young Bucks

IWGP U.S. Heavyweight Championship Match
Kenny Omega (c) vs Jay White

Taylor Maimbourg: Jay White certainly didn’t blow anyone away with his debut at Wrestle Kingdom, but if history is any indication, there still isn’t much to worry about. He joins Kazuchika Okada and AJ Styles on the list of bad debuts, and both of those guys ended up alright. He now heads into a match with Kenny Omega, and Kenny Omega’s innate skill at making his opponent look like a million bucks makes me pretty confident that this match will be something to see and will be the official launching point for Switchblade to connect with the New Japan audience. From a storyline perspective, I don’t love the idea of White losing two big matches to start his career, but I’m not sure why they would put the US Title on White and take it off Omega right before the next US show. The challenge will be to take White’s losing streak and turn it into something that benefits him in the long. What that is exactly I’m not sure, but I have confidence that New Japan has something in mind. Prediction: Kenny Omega

John Carroll: I’m gonna be honest, of all the major matches on all three New Beginning shows (and the tag title match at Korakuen) this is the one that I have by far the least of a read on what’s going to happen. A losing streak in big title matches is not really helpful to White when it comes to getting over as a top star, though I think if he and Omega have a really good match here (which they probably will) it might not matter too much. It’s easy to forget that, for as much build as Tanahashi-White got, that was still only the third match from the top; this, on the other hand, is Jay White’s first main event. I could see lots of arguments for putting White over here: you make a new rival for Kenny and can give him something to do in the short term (maybe he wins the belt back at Dontaku or Dominion or something), you use a title belt to establish White as something close to a top guy immediately and you also make this belt look like something other than the Kenny Omega Memorial Title. But ultimately I don’t think they’re gonna pull the trigger. I think it makes too much sense to have Omega walking into the second Long Beach show as champion still, whatever match he may be having there. But it’s always better to have a sense of uncertainty going into a main event, and I definitely think White could win. We’ll find out soon enough! Prediction: Kenny Omega