New Japan Pro Wrestling
The New Beginning In Sapporo 2018: Night 2
January 28, 2018
Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center
Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Katsuya Kitamura Trial Series – Match #3 – Juice Robinson def. Katsuya Kitamura

This was the third bout of seven in the Kitamura Trial Series, and it was a perfectly solid opening contest. There was some good back and forth action throughout, and it proved to be a fun way to kick off the show. Seeing Kitamura in singles matches is pretty cool, and he continues to show improvement as he gets closer and closer to his excursion. He put a good fight against Juice Robinson (Kitamura, as a whole, actually got in more offense than Juice did), but ultimately, the Young Lion Cup winner came up short when he pinned following a Pulp Friction. A fine match to kick off the show. ***

Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Taichi, Taka Michinoku, & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) def. Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Ryusuke Taguchi, Tiger Mask, & Shota Umino

The junior squad of Suzuki-gun’s was out in full force for this eight-man tag, and they managed to pick up the victory here after Taichi got the pin on Umino. This was a relatively decent match. Things got off to an….odd start, as Taguchi hugged Miho Abe (Taichi’s valet), and pulled her to the mat as everyone else started brawling. The action was solid at points, and mostly everyone got a chance to shine. Various members of Suzuki-gun tried to remove Tiger Mask’s mask, but they were unsuccessful (at least, during the match). Umino did get the opportunity to showcase himself towards the end of this one, but as I already mentioned, Taichi got the better of him. This was fine for it’s spot on the card. **3/4

Afterwards, the Suzuki-gun beatdown continued. They actually managed to take off Tiger Mask’s mask, and gave it to Miho Abe, who put it on and paraded around in it. Then, in retaliation for what happened earlier, she stomped on poor Taguchi’s nuts in her high heels. If that wasn’t enough, Taichi shoved his microphone stand up the ass of Taguchi (who, after recovering, told Kevin Kelly in English that he “broke his ass”). Hey, at least this stuff is being kept on the undercard.

CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) def. The Bullet Club (Yujiro Takahashi & Hikuleo)

So one of the themes on the undercards of these two New Beginning events in Sapporo was that Ishii and Yano were placed in regular two-on-two tag team matches against a Bullet Club B-Team pairing. The night before, they defeated Chase Owens and Yujiro Takahashi, and on this night, they picked up another victory against Yujiro Takahashi and Hikuleo (Leo Tonga’s new name). This was a incredibly average tag team affair. Ishii did have some fun exchanges with Yujiro, but other than that, there really wasn’t much to it. The match quality was below average, though it did give Ishii and Yano another victory, so in that regard, this did accomplish a goal of some kind. It’s pretty obvious that this particular CHAOS pairing will be getting a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles at some point in the future (possibly the Anniversary Show in early March), so this did continue to build towards that. **1/4

The Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, The Guerrillas of Destiny, & Chase Owens) def. Togi Makabe, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Manabu Nakanishi, & Tomoyuki Oka

Nakanishi is filling in for Satoshi Kojima, who will be out for a long time after suffering an ACL injury in his singles bout against Rush on the final night of the FantasticaMania Tour. This was an average eight-man tag that was slightly better than the tag team bout that came before it. The action was fine, and everyone involved had moments to shine. Similar to the earlier eight-man tag, the young lion (Oka, in this case) got some offense in the closing minute or two before ultimately getting pinned. Here, Oka got pinned after a Package Piledriver from Chase Owens, who tried to force Tiger Hattori to count to five (playing off the botched pin during the New Japan Rumble at Wrestle Kingdom 12). Again, this was an average affair, but at least it was an improvement over the previous match. **1/2

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & Takashi Iizuka) def. “Unbreakable” Michael Elgin & Toa Henare

Of course, with what happened the night before, it was a given that Hiroshi Tanahashi would be removed from this match (and presumably the rest of the tour). Toa Henare stepped up to the plate here to take his place. This was a very subpar tag team bout. There was some brawling on the outside to start, and the other Suzuki-gun members (all of their juniors, anyway), took opportunities to interfere. Elgin and Henare did manage to take the fight to Suzuki-gun in the second half, but in the end, Suzuki scored the win for his side after he got Henare to tap out to a knee bar. Nothing much to this one. The only thing that really mattered was what happened after the fact. **

Afterwards, Elgin brawled in the crowd with Iizuka as Suzuki and the juniors started putting the boots to poor Henare. Fortunately, Togi Makabe came out to make the save, which seemingly sets up a Suzuki/Makabe program over the IWGP Intercontinental Title. Now I know that Makabe is still a relatively big star in New Japan (even if most New Japan fans in North America don’t really see him that way), and I understand that Makabe is probably losing, but to me, a Suzuki vs. Makabe feud just seems like a step down for this particular title. This comes off more like a feud that should be over the NEVER Openweight Title, not the IWGP Intercontinental Title. It is a fresh matchup, which is certainly a positive, but I’m not that excited about this one. I’m not exactly sure where this bout will take place, but Makabe will be a fine first defense for Suzuki, even if it’s a pairing that doesn’t do much for me.

The Bullet Club (Cody, “The Hangman” Adam Page, & “The Villain” Marty Scurll) def. Kota Ibushi, KUSHIDA, & David Finlay

After sitting through a series of poor to average undercard matches (not counting the opener), it was nice to finally see a bout on this show was actually good. This was miles better than any of the previous multi-person tags. There was a brief story told in the opening minutes, where Marty Scurll got mostly dominated after The Bullet Club side bragged about Scurll being the “best technical wrestler in the world”, but once we got past that, things really started to pick. The action throughout was very solid, and in particular, there were some cool sequences in the closing minutes. At one point, Ibushi nailed this beautiful transition from a double stomp inside of the ring to his Golden Triangle Moonsault to the floor. Eventually, The Bullet Club team got the win after Adam Page pinned KUSHIDA after hitting Rite Of Passage. Now, it always important to pay attention to who scores the falls in these multi-man tags, because that could give hints as to who will be next in line for a title shot. Well, this was Page’s second straight pinfall victory in a six-man tag, and the fact that he pinned KUSHIDA is pretty significant, especially when you consider that David Finlay was in the match. Obviously, Page is being set up for something (which would be revealed a little later), but as for this particular match, it was very enjoyable to watch from start to finish. ***1/4

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Hiromu Takahashi, BUSHI, EVIL, & SANADA) def. CHAOS (“Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, Will Ospreay, YOSHI-HASHI, & Gedo)

Well this match certainly looks familiar. It feels like I’ve reviewed this exact same ten-man tag more than once over the last few months (I know it happened at New Year Dash, and I’m pretty sure I reviewed a show late last year that had the same lineup of guys). Look, they’ve done this bout, with this same set of CHAOS members, to death ever since Hiromu Takahashi joined the group, but every single time, they manage to deliver. This particular meeting was no exception, and to be completely honest, it was incredibly entertaining. With plenty of action throughout, and a generally quick pace, there was never a dull moment. The match was a ton of fun to watch from start to finish, and it served its purpose (building up all of the singles bouts coming up in Osaka) brilliantly. YOSHI-HASHI showed a more vicious side early on when he went after Naito, Hiromu and Ospreay had an entertaining exchange, EVIL brawled with Goto both inside and outside of the ring, and Okada faced off with SANADA. You really can’t ask for much more than that. SANADA would score the win for LIJ after locking in the Skull End on Gedo. Again, out of the endless series of CHAOS/LIJ ten-man tags, this was definitely one of the better ones for sure. ***3/4

Afterwards, YOSHI-HASHI wanted to go after Naito, but he had to be restrained by his fellow stablemates and a few young lions. SANADA then cut a quick promo as CHAOS made their exit.

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Titles
Roppongi 3K def. The Young Bucks (C)

These two teams opened up Wrestle Kingdom 12 with a great match that saw The Young Bucks defeat Roppongi 3K to capture the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Titles for the record-setting 7th time. Unfortunately, that title reign would be short lived, as Roppongi 3K recaptured the titles in what was an incredible contest that was even better than their original encounter.

There was a lot of awesome action from start to finish, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but this also featured a great story throughout. Much like their Wrestle Kingdom 12 meeting, a back injury became the primary focus, as Matt Jackson reaggravated the back injury that he suffered during that first match. I believe YOH also hurt his back again as well, but Matt Jackson’s injury was definitely the more noticeable of the two.

Matt’s selling was excellent, while Nick Jackson did a great job continuing to fight on, despite his brother’s injury. Even with those setbacks, The Young Bucks still managed to go back and forth with Roppongi 3K, leading to a number of awesome exchanges and nearfalls in the second half. Towards the end, Matt kept trying to lock in the sharpshooter on YOH, but the pain in his back made it difficult to keep the hold on (despite getting some help from his brother). He lost the hold, and went to reapply the submission, but then YOH caught him with a rollup to bring the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Titles back to Roppongi 3K.

Once again, this was an awesome match that featured incredible performances from both teams. Roppongi 3K got a big win over over one of the greatest tag teams in the world, while The Young Bucks had one of their best overall performances in New Japan, proving once again that they can do so much more than just flashy moves. ****1/2

IWGP United States Title
“Switchblade” Jay White def. Kenny Omega (C)

This main event was probably the biggest question mark on the entire tour, both in terms of match quality and storyline direction. We all know that Jay White is a really good wrestler, but his first major singles bout against Hiroshi Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 12 was seen by most as a disappointment.

The next night at New Year Dash, he was thrust into a program with Kenny Omega when he attacked the leader of The Bullet Club, and declared his intentions of coming after the group. We were all wondering if Jay White could rise to the occasion against one of the best wrestlers in the world today, and have a better performance than he did against Tanahashi at the Tokyo Dome. Then there was the question of the result. Should Jay White lose two big title matches in a row? Was it too risky to take the IWGP United States Title off of Omega (who had done so much to establish that title) in favor of a returning young lion who was still working out this strange new character?

Well, when the dust settled, this main event ended up being really good. As a match, I would definitely put this above Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Jay White from Wrestle Kingdom 12. There was good wrestling and cool moments throughout, but the story of the bout was what really caught my attention. For the most part, Jay White controlled the first ten minutes or so, as he took the fight to Omega both inside the ring and on the floor. Then, Omega seemed to retake control following a snap hurricanrana and his signature Terminator dive to the outside. White fought back for a little bit, but for the majority of the second half, Omega was firmly in control as he just beat the crap out of poor Jay White. However, he wasn’t able to finish the job, and Jay White barely managed to stay alive. In the final five minutes, White mounted a comeback. After an initial Blade Runner failed to keep Omega down, White hit a second Blade Runner as a counter to the One Winged Angel, and got the pin to capture the IWGP United States Title.

One of the critiques I’ve seen revolves around that second half where White was just taking a beating at the hands of Omega. In my view, the story was that Omega knew he had White on the verge of defeat, and he just started to toy with him. He viciously attacked White with V-Triggers, hit him with a number of dragon suplexes, and even slapped White around, saying that he’s not on his level. However, White was able to stay in the match because Omega never finished him. If he had just hit that One Winged Angel ten minutes earlier, he would’ve easily put White away to retain his title. To my recollection, Omega really hasn’t beaten anyone with any other move besides the One Winged Angel. Yes, those V-Triggers and suplexes are brutal, but he never put the nail in the proverbial coffin, and thus, White managed to stay alive. He was too focused on teaching White a lesson. An analogy that came to mind (for me) was last year’s Super Bowl. The Atlanta Falcons dominated most of that game, and at one point had a 28-3 lead. However, they couldn’t finish the New England Patriots off for good, and because of that, they were able to mount a comeback to win the game. It’s not like the Falcons were toying with the Patriots, but like Omega, they blew a huge advantage and couldn’t finish the job.

Even though I thought this main event was very good, and certainly a better outing for Jay White, it wasn’t without issues. While the crowd was far from dead (they were into Omega for sure), they didn’t seem to be that into Jay White. Even with this result, it’s clear that he’s still got work to do in some areas, because even as a heel, you shouldn’t have silent crowds during parts of your matches. Despite that issue, these two did enough for me to consider it a worthwhile main event, at least for a New Beginning show. ****

Jay White capturing the IWGP United States Title was certainly a big deal, but that seemed to be completely forgotten after everything that happened afterwards. As Omega was recovering, Adam Page came out and took the United States Title, seemingly indicating that he was going to be the next challenger. Omega then took the belt from Page, and handed it to White (which seemed to be Omega acknowledging that White was the better man that night). Cody then came out and started arguing with Omega, saying that he was stealing Page’s moment. Marty Scurll & The Young Bucks tried to defuse the situation, but Omega got into a shoving match with Cody, and in frustration, Omega shoved down the still-injured Matt Jackson. Omega showed immediate regret, but The Young Bucks bailed. Page and Scurll then left as well, so that Omega can settle things with Cody. They appeared to sort things out, but as Omega went to leave, Cody hit him with Cross Rhodes. Scurll tried to get Cody to back down, but the former ROH World Champion order Page to hold Omega as he went to get a chair. It looked as though Cody was going to nail Omega with the chair, but Kota Ibushi ran down to the ring and made the save to a massive ovation from the crowd in Sapporo. Ibushi then extended his hand to help Omega up, but Omega refused it, and got up on his own. It looked as though he didn’t want Ibushi’s help, but then the two embraced in a big hug as confetti cannons went off to close the show.

Now there’s a lot to unpack here. The Golden Lovers reuniting is obviously a huge deal, and it’ll be very interesting to see what their direction is going forward. While the attack from Cody on Omega seemed to signal the long-awaited split within The Bullet Club, this came off to me more as a split within The Elite. Of course, you had all the players from “Being The Elite” out there, but other Bullet Club members (Bad Luck Fale, The Guerrillas of Destiny, Chase Owens, Yujiro Takahashi) were nowhere to be seen during all of this. It honestly feels like that those guys were completed separated from what went on in this angle. I have no idea what their roles will be on this, but that’ll also be fascinating to follow.

Then there’s the fact that Jay White vs. Adam Page appears to be the next IWGP United States Title program. Now, I think everyone know that Jay White is a really good wrestler (like I mentioned earlier), and despite what some might think, Adam Page is actually a pretty solid talent (he’ll never be close to a main eventer, but he’s a very good mid-card wrestler). That being said, when this title was first conceived, I don’t think anyone expected to see these two fighting over it. After all of the work Omega did to built this title up from nothing, it certainly seems like a big step down, especially coming off the heels of the Kenny Omega/Chris Jericho match at Wrestle Kingdom 12 (though to be fair, the United States Title was really an afterthought in that entire program). It’s nothing more than a placeholder defense for Jay White (like Makabe appears to be for Suzuki), but I’m actually really curious to see where this match happens. It certainly won’t be main eventing a show, that’s for sure. I could see it at the Strong Style Evolved show in Long Beach, or even on a ROH event. Either way, I don’t think many North American fans will be looking forward to it.

Final Thoughts

This show got off to a fine start with the Juice Robinson/Katsuya Kitamura singles bout, but things really went downhill from there with an undercard that was an absolute chore to sit through. Fortunately, that downward trend turned around with the final four matches. Out of those, The Young Bucks vs. Roppongi 3K for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Titles was easily the best match on the entire show. Opinions on Kenny Omega vs. Jay White seem to be all over the place, but I thought it was really good (though my interpretation of the story has a lot to do with that). Despite the shocking result, the aftermatch (with The Golden Lovers coming back together) instantly overshadowed Jay White’s win, and if anything, it creates a lot of intrigue to see what happens next. As for this show, check out the opener and the last four matches. That’s all you really need to see.