New Japan Pro Wrestling
The New Beginning in Sapporo (Night 1)
Saturday, February 2nd, 2019
Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center Hokkai Kitayell

Watch: NJPW World

Meet our previewers

August Baker: August is prepared for two nights of LIJ vs Suzuki-gun action! And lots of Young Lion action! And a whole lot of tag matches! Follow him on Twitter @augustbaker12

John Carroll: John is also quite excited to watch their two favorite NJPW units go at it. They made lots of embarrassing noises during the elimination tag on this past Monday’s Korakuen, in fact. Follow them on Twitter @toshanshuinla or better yet just follow their podcast @wrestleomakase so you miss all the dumb garbage.

Ren Narita vs. Yuya Uemura

August: Narita has seniority here and is on a bit of a roll this tour, so he’ll probably get the win. Narita even debuted a sweet new finishing move, so you have to think excursion may be sooner than later. Can Uemura last to the ten minute time limit while avoiding the Boston Crab and the bridging belly-to-belly suplex? Probably not. Prediction: Ren Narita

John: While I’ll never complain about HOT YOUNG LION ACTION, the undercards are kind of the glaring weakness of this tour, even more than most tours of this level. That’s illustrated right here in this opener, because a straight-up one vs. one young lion match is pretty rare for a non-Korakuen. Of course, part of this is because we’re missing a lot of Japanese talent (Ishii, Goto, Nagata, Roppongi 3K, Kojima, Liger, etc.) that was probably earmarked for the New Beginning in USA shows that are going on at the same time. Had New Japan known that President Dipshit was going to greatly slow down the visa process with his dumbass shutdown over a stupid wall (how’d that turn out for him btw, I assume good?), they could have just put those dudes on these cards and called it a day. But anyway! This match! It will be pretty good! Narita will win! Fuck Trump! Prediction: Ren Narita

Manabu Nakanishi & Toa Henare vs. Ayato Yoshida & Shota Umino

August: The winner of this one is not in doubt. But should it be? The divide between Henare and Yoshida is razor thin, so if there was ever a random meaningless tag match where the Lions have a chance to win, it’s with the C Block runner up Henare and the nearly immobile Nakanishi. But of course, that will not happen. The real question here is will Henare get a rare pinfall, or is one of the Lions taking a ride on Monster Morning’s shoulders and tapping out? Prediction: Nakanishi & Henare

John: They’ve been trying to give Henare a few more pinfalls lately via the TOA Bottom, so I expect he’ll be getting another pin here. Umino seems destined to be the next young lion heading out on excursion, possibly very soon, but who knows what Yoshida’s future will look like. Even after lots of speculation that he would be going full time NJPW he continues to work Kaientai Dojo dates (his 4 K-DOJO shows this month actually equal his NJPW shows as I write this), so at least for now he seems like he’s kind of in a holding pattern. Trying to work two promotions at once, on anything even resembling a full time type schedule for both of them, is extremely difficult, and he can go ask Kota Ibushi if he thinks I’m wrong. Prediction: Nakanashi & Henare

Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Tiger Mask vs. Takashi Iizuka & TAKA Michinoku

August: Iizuka begins the march to retirement, and I can’t be bothered to care very much. As someone who was completely unfamiliar with him before Suzuki-gun’s return to New Japan, Iizuka will not be missed. Perhaps others will have something to say about this one, as I do not. Prediction: Tenzan & Tiger Mask

John: Yes, Takashi Iizuka will indeed retire as of the February 21st New Japan Road Korakuen, so he has only a handful of televised matches remaining. My big question leading up to that 2/21 show is whether he will begin showing any signs of shedding his elderly wildman gimmick that he’s had since turning heel and joining GBH in 2008. I’m not sure if he’ll do it or not, but I would love to see him go back to the Blizzard suplex-throwing underdog heavyweight that was a midcard staple of New Japan for over 20 years before the turn. So I’ll be on the lookout for any teases in these tag matches with TAKA. Prediction: Tenzan & Tiger Mask

Togi Makabe, Toru Yano, Tomoaki Honma, YOSHI-HASHI & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. BULLET CLUB (Guerillas of Destiny, Yujiro Takahashi, Chase Owens & Taiji Ishimori)

August: This is just setting up several matches upcoming at the tour’s end in Osaka, so we’re going to see about three dozen variations of this match between now and then. This is the weakness to breaking up one show into two and two shows into three. But hey, I’m sure Wrestle Kingdom next year will be fine! Probably not filled with meaningless tag matches at all! Anyways, these matches are highlighted by Tama Tonga’s “Good Guy” act, and Honma moving like a broken marionette, and I’m sure this one will be no different. Guerrillas of Destiny have some awesome theme music, so I hope they win. Prediction: BULLET CLUB

John: The Tama Tonga “Good Guy” stuff does add just a little bit of spice to otherwise nothing midcard tags, so I’m all for it. It seems like the kind of thing he may have just come up on his own, which is probably why it’s sort of fun while not seeming like it’s necessarily building to anything major in the long-term, but who knows. Obviously the focus here is the Taguchi vs. Ishimori junior title match in Osaka, as our champion has taken to using the Funky Weapon’s own ankle lock against him. That I’m sure will pay off during the title match, so expect more of the build up to focus on it again here. Prediction: BULLET CLUB

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi & BUSHI) vs. Suzukigun (Taichi, El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)

August: Here we go, starting the business end of the card. This previews two of the title matches the next night, and while I think LIJ retains their titles then, it wouldn’t surprise me if they come up short here. Taichi is very entertaining, and I like that more people are starting to come around to him, but he still has a credibility problem with me. A strong win here would help, but a strong win would also be anti-Taichi so I don’t know that there’s anything they can do to make me think Taichi is going to win the title until he actually does. I expect a sneaky win from Lord Taichi and a post match beat down to try and make me think SZG has any chance of winning those belts. Prediction: Suzuki-gun

John: Here’s the thing with Taichi: while I totally get where my co-author is coming from, I think WWE’s over-reliance on slimey cheating heels (to the near-total exclusion of any other type of heel) has made people feel like they’re just completely worthless when that isn’t the case. In a promotion that’s full of bad-ass heels that don’t need to cheat and can just beat your ass or make you tap out (there’s a few in Taichi’s own unit, in fact), it’s totally fine to have this one guy who’s a sniveling coward and who needs to hit you with a well-timed microphone or belt shot to have a real chance at winning. With that said, Taichi quietly has added more “legitimate” moves to his arsenal- witness him kicking the shit out of Naito’s leg during the elimination match, or repeatedly laying him out with the Black Mephisto (his name for the air raid crash, a move that he hadn’t used much in a very long while in New Japan but of which you can actually find grainy video on Youtube of him hitting it in All Japan from like 2008). But that doesn’t mean that anyone seriously thinks he can beat someone on the level of Naito cleanly, and I wouldn’t even argue that’s a bad thing. Not everyone has to be a bad-ass! I love Taichi as much as virtually anyone, but that doesn’t mean I want to see him start beating everyone on the roster clean as a sheet. He’s wonderful just as he is, a total cheating scumbag. Anyway! This six-man tag match should be a fun little preview of two title matches on the following night’s show, and like August I suspect Suzukigun will get the win here. Prediction: Suzukigun

SANADA vs. Minoru Suzuki

August: I’m going to admit something to you, something I’ve thought for a long time now but rarely say outloud for fear of the backlash. Alright, here it goes: SANADA kind of sucks. He’s my least favorite member of LIJ and I don’t understand what everyone else sees him or why people think he’s a future star and should be pushed. I just don’t see it at all. Everyone in LIJ has more charisma then he does, and everyone but BUSHI has better matches. Whew. I feel a lot better after getting that off my chest. I hope SANADA puts Suzuki in the Paradise Lock, because people will go nuts and I like to watch the world burn. Prediction: Suzuki

John: On the other hand I will not say that SANADA sucks because he doesn’t, actually. With that out of the way…..these next two matches show one of the major benefits of having heavyweight tag team champions who are actually interesting singles wrestlers on their own, because this kind of “split the team up and do two one-on-one matches” just wasn’t a realistic option for New Japan in previous years. God bless the Killer Elite Squad and the Guerillas of Destiny, but you couldn’t exactly put Lance Archver vs. Tanga Loa and Davey Boy Smith Jr. vs. Tama Tonga this high up on a card (any card, not even a Korakuen really) and expect a single person on the entire planet earth to care. But here we’ve got a fun little bonus singles match with Suzuki and SANADA, the type of match you don’t typically see in NJPW outside of a G1 or New Japan Cup setting, and I’m very here for it. Prediction: Minoru Suzuki

EVIL vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

August: Finally! After months of teasing this match, it’s finally happening, and I am hyped for it. This is a top five match on this tour for me. EVIL is going to get the push that everyone else wants SANADA to get, and is going to have a huge 2019. But I’m predicting big things for Zack also. It’s not a coincidence that EVIL is higher on the card than SANADA, and Zack being higher than Suzuki is a hint for things to come I think. This won’t be the last time we get this match this year. Both these matches are previews for the tag title match the next night, so I think they split the victories here. Prediction: EVIL

John: Weirdly there’s a lot of history here for a match that’s technically just two guys who are both in a tag title match the next night fighting each other in a singles match. If you weren’t around for it, a brief recap: Sabre started repeatedly pinning EVIL with his various elaborate flash pins in tags during the fall of last year. This lead up to what was supposed to be a singles match between the two at King of Pro Wrestling in October, but the match never happened, as Chris Jericho made his return to NJPW instead after a long absence and attacked EVIL before the bell (revenge for EVIL running him off after the Jericho-Naito IC title match at Dominion). Jericho left EVIL laying, and Sabre decided to get his licks in afterward too, which let to Naito running out to make the save. That all set up the double main event of the following Power Struggle show, with Naito finally beating ZSJ (after previously losing to him twice, in the New Japan Cup & G1) and EVIL coming up short challenging Jericho for the IC belt. But that still left us with this unfinished EVIL-ZSJ business, and now nearly four months after it was originally supposed to take place, we’ll finally get that singles match. Not bad for what otherwise could just be a throwaway match. This past Wednesday ZSJ got yet another flash pin on EVIL in a six-man tag between Suzukigun and LIJ, reminding us once again that he has his number. Anyway, I think EVIL pulls out the win here, both avenging those previous pinfall losses and evening things up at 1-1 after Suzuki presumably puts away SANADA. Prediction: EVIL

Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kazuchika Okada vs. Jay White & Bad Luck Fale

August: Twelve times IWGP Champion. Five times G1 Climax winner. Three times New Japan Cup winner. Eleven Wrestle Kingdom main events. Almost three thousand days as IWGP Heavyweight Champion. The team of Tanahashi and Okada has to be one of the most decorated tag teams in professional wrestling history. But despite their accomplishments, neither man has an answer for Switchblade Jay White. When Okada and Tanahashi started teaming up, everyone expected the dream team to dispatch the upstart White and the Bullet Club. But that didn’t happen. White had their numbers then, he had their number at Wrestle Kingdom and New Year’s Dash, and he’s going to have their number this night. Prediction: White & Fale

John: Some people will tell you this is the first time Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada have teamed together in a straight up 2 vs. 2 tag team match, but I am here to tell you that those people are WRONG! Tanahashi and Okada teamed up to face the team of Karl Anderson and Giant Bernard (representing Okada’s future unit, CHAOS!) on October 18th of 2009, in the Tatebayashi Citizen Gymnasium. They teamed up again on January 2nd, 2010, when they took on the team of NO LIMIT (that would be Tetsuya Naito & Yujiro Takahashi, for the youngins out there) at the Chiba Port Sub Arena. Both matches ended in losses for our heroes, and nine years later I don’t suspect much will change. All kidding aside the first “real” teaming of these two in a 2 vs. 2 tag is a pretty big deal (both those matches happened before Okada left for excursion, when he was still a young lion) but would probably feel like an even bigger deal if they hadn’t just teamed in multi-man tags for weeks in December. I get the idea of holding off the 2 vs. 2 tag for a big spot, but I think doing the 2 vs. 2 straight up tag first and then doing a bunch of multi-man tags would have been better honestly. As we are, this feels…..kinda special, I guess? But it could have felt like a lot more. Anyway, I’m not sure who’s getting pinned here (does White pin Tanahashi to really drive home that he’s a major threat to take the title in Osaka, or does Okada eat the pin to either one after shenanigans or something?) but I’m quite certain the BULLET CLUB team will win. Prediction: White & Fale