New Japan Pro Wrestling
The New Beginning in Osaka
February 10, 2018
Osaka Prefectural Gym
Edion Arena Osaka

Watch: NJPW World

Meet our previewers:

  • Aaron Bentley: Aaron (@aaronlikethecar) is a co-host of Everything Evolves (@evolvepod), the world’s only podcast devoted exclusively to EVOLVE wrestling. Yes, that qualifies him to preview this New Japan show.
  • John Carroll: John is enjoying their first week off from podcasting in about eight months. You can follow them on Twitter at @toshanshuinla if you need more weeb trash in your life.

Katsuya Kitamura 7 Match Trial Series
Yuji Nagata vs Katsuya Kitamura

Aaron Bentley: My usual trend with young lions is to fall in love with them immediately upon their debut, wish they didn’t have to go on excursion, forget about them during their excursion, then be disappointed upon their return that they’re not already the best in the world. I haven’t followed that trend with Kitamura and that makes me worried about him. This is the sixth match in his trial series and none of the bouts have been noteworthy. After his match against Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Tenzan opined that because of Kitamura’s age, the 32-year-old would either return from excursion as the best wrestler ever or would be total shit. I don’t expect Kitamura to reach either extreme. Instead, I fear he will occupy the mediocre middle. The oldest young lion will fail again here but I hope he shows a little more than he has thus far. Prediction: Yuji Nagata

John Carroll: I’m a bit more impressed with Kitamura than Aaron is; I think he has some really great in-ring charisma already and clearly connects with the audience, and that’s half the battle. If he can round out his moveset a little more and maybe find a way to make use of his legitimate amateur background in his matches I think he could be a very good professional wrestler. To be quite honest though, I’m still convinced Oka will eventually surpass him, at least as an in ring guy. But that’s the fun thing about young lions: we can make all the guesses we want but we’ll never really know! As I try to remind people all the time, Yujiro Takahashi was considered a prodigy! Hiromu Takahashi was considered to be nothing special! You never know how this is all gonna turn out. All you can do is load up with as many young lions as you can and hope you find a star or two, and NJPW is certainly doing that of late. Anyway, Nagata rules so this match should be good. Hope he brings out his new All Asia Tag Titles! Prediction: Yuji Nagata

Roppongi 3K (YOH & SHO) vs Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado

Aaron Bentley: I’m glad to see a two-on-two junior tag match, though New Japan has provided more of those of late. More unusual is a junior tag match bereft of non-native talent. Roppongi 3K refused to put their titles on the line because they believe the Suzuki-Gun team isn’t on their level. They’re not wrong. However, Kanemaru & Despy are likely to pick up a win here to set up a title match. Prediction: Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado

John Carroll: I like the storyline with SHO & YOH basically refusing to give Kanemaru & Desperado a junior tag title shot because they think they don’t deserve it. That’s the kind of cocky punks I want them to be, not white meat babyfaces. Kanemaru & Despy are a solid junior tag team and this match should be good stuff. Almost seems too obvious that they’re winning here to set up a title match though. Could they shock us with a R3K victory instead? I doubt it, but it would be cool if they did! Prediction: Kanemaru & Desperado

Togi Makabe, Michael Elgin, KUSHIDA & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Suzukigun (Minoru Suzuki, Takashi Iizuka, Taichi & TAKA Michinoku)

Aaron Bentley: The main story here will be Makabe’s upcoming Intercontinental title match against Minoru Suzuki. However, the most interesting narrative for any of the men involved developed in Taichi’s post-match comments after the last two shows on this tour. Though he lost to Tetsuya Naito at TAICHITAKAMANIA, Taichi used his promo time to challenge the LIJ leader to a singles match in New Japan. If that match is going to happen in this promotion, Taichi could pick up a fall here. Prediction: Suzukigun

John Carroll: I’m firmly on Team Suzukigun Is Good Again. Yeah, they were the shits that second year in NOAH when none of them cared, and I was down on them coming back to NJPW last year because, well, I actually watched NOAH in 2016. But after a rocky reintroduction back into New Japan, I think pretty much all of them have found their groove again as annoying pricks. The juniors never even really lost it to be honest, with Taichi especially doing some really fun work as a total scumbag. Iizuka’s act can wear thin but I can handle him in small doses (please go watch his match with Jun Kasai from TAKA TAICHI MANIA, it was so good), and Suzuki seems to have found his groove again as a killer submission artist rather than what he was during most of the NEVER reign, a mohawked goofball who needed his friends to win all his matches for him. Loved him destroying Tanahashi’s injured leg and taking him out to take his title, and then on the Korakuen shows he tapped out Taguchi quickly with a heel hold in a finish right out of the true strong style days. The Makabe feud is a cool little thing to occupy his time with, as for whatever other faults he might have the ‘ol gorilla is still a charismatic guy who has more than enough credibility for an IC Title program. Their feud was a strong part of two really good Korakuen shows, so I’m looking forward to the next chapter here. I’m expecting Makabe to pin TAKA or Taichi and then issue yet another challenge for the belt, maybe to set it up for the upcoming anniversary show. Prediction: Makabe & Elgin & KUSHIDA & Taguchi

The End of Okada: SANADA’s New Beginning

Juice Robinson, David Finlay & Toa Henare vs. CHAOS (Jay White, Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano)

Aaron Bentley: There is a lot going on in this seemingly meaningless six-man match. David Finlay is coming off a great performance in a loss to Jay White at Korakuen Hall. Ishii and Yano picked up two consecutive tag wins on this tour and appear headed toward a tag title challenge. And Juice Robinson stated recently that if he wins the New Japan Cup, he’ll challenge Switchblade for the US title. With all that in the mix, Henare seems most likely to take the fall here, though any of the CHAOS team would make sense as the ultimate victor. Prediction: CHAOS

John Carroll: Knife Perv In CHAOS is one of the coolest storylines New Japan has done in, like, a million years. Along with the ongoing BULLET CLUB strife it makes the unit situation feel fluid for the first time since the introduction of LIJ (which was, yes, about two and a half years ago now!), and it’s clear now we’re heading for a desperately needed shake-up. On an Omakase episode recently I compared Jay White to someone a friend of yours brought to your party who you just know isn’t right. You look at this guy and you know that he’s a bad dude and you don’t really want him in your house, but he hasn’t really done anything yet that would justify you throwing him out. That’s White in CHAOS in a nutshell, and it’s a lot of fun. Prediction: CHAOS

Special Singles Match
Gedo vs BUSHI

Aaron Bentley: This seemed like a throwaway match at first but both men have done a great job adding fuel to the fire. Gedo made a habit on this tour of stealing BUSHI’s masks while BUSHI threatened to forcibly shave Gedo’s beard. Though the match is not advertised this way, I’ve decided to carry on as if it’s a mask versus beard match so if it doesn’t end with BUSHI holding down Gedo while shaving his chin bald, I’ll be supremely disappointed. Prediction: BUSHI

John Carroll: A non-title junior singles match! Holy crap! This has been another fun little feud to follow on the tour so far. First it was BUSHI who had the upper hand, laying out Gedo at New Year Dash, but Gedo quickly reversed things on him on the next two Korakuen shows, stealing not one but TWO of BUSHI’s masks. The set-up here seems to be for BUSHI to get some measure of revenge by beating Gedo in what should be a fun little match. Prediction: BUSHI

Special Singles Match
YOSHI-HASHI vs Tetsuya Naito

Aaron Bentley: It’s been a bumpy ride for YOSHI-HASHI. After a long stretch of floating in the low end of the midcard, he got a decent push last year and wrestling Twitter decided he was good. I never joined that chorus but it’s always fun to see a guy get a shot at a new spot on the card. It didn’t take and the Master of the Loose Explosion finds himself back where he began. Because of that general lack of impressiveness, Naito responded to YOSHI-HASHI’s challenge with the appropriate nonchalance. This match should be peak LIJ-Naito-can’t-be-bothered until YOSHI-HASHI causes him to care. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

John Carroll: The only booking I’m kinda dissatisfied with right now is Naito’s, because boy has a YOSHI-HASHI feud been a huge step down for him. To be fair they’re acknowledging that in in the booking and making it clear that Naito doesn’t take him seriously, but on the last couple Korakuens it just hasn’t clicked for me at all. All this feud has done is just make it more obvious how above this shit Naito is and how utterly hopeless YOSHI-HASHI is as anything resembling a real threat. As Aaron alluded to, the time to pull the trigger with ‘ol stick man was in 2016, after Nakamura left and there was a real hole in CHAOS. They teased us with it with YOSHI getting some surprising G1 wins (and the crowd was actually behind him back then, which they’ve been anything but in this feud so far), but after Omega basically laughed at him during the build-up to their briefcase match and then sent him packing, he was allowed to fall right back down to where he started. And now, this! Honestly if they put him over Naito here in any fashion, I don’t care if they have a meteor fall from the sky and crush Naito in the ring and YOSHI is declared the winner by default, I’ll find Gedo and I’ll make him pay. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship
Will Ospreay (c) vs Hiromu Takahashi

Aaron Bentley: Hiromu has apparently decided that if he’s going to be forced to do stupid things like signing ceremonies, he will do everything in his power to make a mockery of them. He brought Ospreay fried chicken then fed it to Will during their photo op. He asked if he was supposed to sign on the table or the contract. Despite his histrionics, he seems to be saying all he really wants to do is fight. Now that New Japan has wrapped up the Ospreay/Marty Scurll storyline, it’s time for Takahashi to take his rightful place as the ace of the junior division. Ospreay won the only other singles match in this company between the two of them but I expect Hiromu to even the score here. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi

John Carroll: I’m very conflicted here. I love Hiromu and on one hand I would like him to win, but on the OTHER hand I also really like his team with BUSHI and wouldn’t mind seeing them in a long feud with R3K for the junior tag titles. If he wins here, that obviously won’t be happening any time soon. And it seems a little cruel to Young William to have both his title reigns end so quickly, to be quite honest. But yeah, at the end of the day I think Hiromu winning is the most likely outcome. The junior tag title feud of my dreams will have to wait. No matter who wins though, I’m quite confident this match is going to be completely insane. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi

NEVER Openweight Championship
Hirooki Goto (c) vs EVIL

Aaron Bentley: As you can see, I’m predicting a clean LIJ sweep to this point in the show. That will continue here as Gedo tries to make you really wonder if SANADA will pull off the upset in the main event. The build to this match included EVIL getting the best of Goto in a tag title match and suggesting Goto would have to bring something new to the table to win this contest. Goto agreed and hinted he would have something new for EVIL. I’m interested to see what he unveils to try to retain his title but it won’t be enough. Prediction: EVIL

John Carroll: These two have had really great matches in the past, and it makes sense since they have a very similar wrestling style. We go to Big Boy Town™ whenever they clash, and it’s a lot of straight ahead colliding into each other that’s very fun to watch. If you like lariats and shoulderblocks, this is probably gonna be the match for you. I definitely can see Aaron’s point here with EVIL winning to set up a clean LIJ sweep heading into the main event, but ultimately I don’t think the NEVER belt is where they see EVIL going right now. I think Goto’s gonna carry this belt for a bit longer. Wouldn’t shock me if Aaron was right, but I’m going with my gut here. Prediction: Hirooki Goto

IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs SANADA

Aaron Bentley: This matchup is a preview of at least the next five years of New Japan. At 35, Naito is a good current foil for Okada but he isn’t the long-term answer. SANADA will eventually surpass Naito and become Okada’s biggest challenger. These two have met in three previous singles matches, with Okada winning each. SANADA did get the best of the champ in the tag title match leading up to this bout, countering the Rainmaker and hitting his own version of the move, but he couldn’t pin Okada. There is a lot of momentum for the idea that SANADA could pull off the victory in Osaka. I just don’t see it. It’s too early for Cold Skull. It wouldn’t be like Gedo to pull the trigger at this point. SANADA will eventually pin Okada and become IWGP Heavyweight champion but not on this night. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada

John Carroll: Until that article we published on the front page recently I honestly didn’t even give SANADA winning this a second thought, but I have to admit that piece really did get me going here. What if this is SANADA’s time? What if Gedo has decided to elevate him in the biggest way possible? What if, while everyone is so focused on Okada reaching that title defense record (this would be #10 for him, one shy of Tanahashi’s 11, the record for a single reign), Gedo’s game was making a new star in one night when everyone least expected it? One would have to think it would play a big part in the ongoing unit shakeup as well. So you know what, I could see it happening. Push come to shove, do I think it will? No. But man, I would be so happy if it did. Anyway, as far as match quality here I think they already showed after the excellent tag team title match that there’s nothing to worry about. I’m amused some people thought SANADA sucked now because he wasn’t necessarily giving it his all in 15-minute matches with Random Gaijin Team #34897, but hopefully we’ve put that to bed. SANADA is great, and he’s showing it again now that he actually has something to work with here. This match really has no business being anything but awesome. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada