New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Year Dash!! 2020
January 6, 2020
Ota City General Gymnasium
Jushin Thunder Liger Retirement Ceremony
Much like the Tokyo Dome cards from the previous two nights, Jushin Thunder Liger kicked off the show, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Kevin Kelly & Chris Charlton brought this up later on commentary, but Liger probably insisted on having his ceremony be first, so that it wouldn’t overshadow the active wrestlers on the card. Liger really is one of the most selfless legends in the history of pro-wrestling. He’s very much the polar opposite of some of top stars who famously ran roughshod over the scene here in North America during the Monday Night Wars (particularly in WCW), and serves as a shining example that all wrestlers should follow when they reach the twilight of their careers.
I’m not going to say much about the retirement ceremony (because I don’t believe my words can do it justice), but I’ll go over some quick highlights. Liger came out to the ring dressed in his full outfit, which was a bit of a surprise, as I thought he’d be in more casual attire (street clothes and the more open mask he wears when he does commentary). We then had several different groups and individuals present bouquets of flowers to Liger, which included Hontai, CHAOS (sans Tomohiro Ishii), Harold Meij, Naoki Sugabayashi, and Liger’s family (his wife and son). There was then a special video message from Antonio Inoki, before Liger does a brief speech. He mentioned how important the Tokyo Dome was to his career, and then thanked everyone once again. We get a ten bell salute (at some point, they showed this incredible shot of Tanahashi in tears), and then everyone from the babyface side of the roster came back into the ring to hoist Liger in the air a few times. The ceremony concluded with everyone in the ring, and everyone in the Ota City General Gymnasium, sang Liger’s theme song. This whole thing was heartwarming from the very start, and you would be lying if you said that you didn’t shed at least one tear. You aren’t going to see retirement ceremonies in pro-wrestling quite like this one. If you somehow haven’t seen this yet, you need to stop whatever it is you’re doing, and go watch it.
Karl Fredericks, Clark Connors, & Alex Coughlin def. Toa Henare, Yota Tsuji, & Yuya Uemura
After everyone composed themselves following the emotional retirement ceremony, we finally got to some wrestling matches and, as always, the young lions kicked off the show. It’s been a real treat to see this New Japan Dojo vs. LA Dojo rivalry, and this proved to be another fun chapter in that story. This only went about ten minutes or so, but it was filled with solid wrestling action from start to finish. I enjoyed that we got different styles of wrestling, based on who was in the match. The first minute or so of the bout saw a good technical exchange between Connors and Uemura. Then, when Coughlin and Tsuji tagged in, we got more of a fight, as they went back and forth with hard strikes and chops. Fredericks and Henare would soon join the fray, and they got their moments to shine as well. Ultimately, Fredericks managed to get Uemura to tap out to a half crab. In case you didn’t realize it yet, New Japan clearly sees Karl Fredericks as a future top star in the promotion. One might think that Toa Henare’s side would win here, considering that Henare is the only one in the entire match that’s technically above young lion status, but the fact that Fredericks got the win here for his side is just further proof that this guy is going to be a big deal in New Japan when his time comes. ***1/4
Afterward, Alex Coughlin brawled to the back with Yota Tsuji, so it should be interesting to see if the rivalry between those two continues on future shows.
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Non-Title Four-Way Tag Team Match – Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) def. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champions Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH), Los Ingobernables de Japon (IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI), & Bullet Club (El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori)
You thought that we would go through an entire Wrestle Kingdom Weekend without a single three-way or four-way tag team match? Well guess again, says Gedo! I might be the only person (maybe the only person) on the Voices Of Wrestling staff with this take, but I’ve never been that bothered by the three-way and four-way tags in New Japan (though generally, I still prefer to see the two-on-two tags). Sure, it was a little annoying when they seemed to do them on various shows several years ago, but we’ve definitely seen less of them over the last few years. Plus, if the wrestlers/teams involved are all good (or mostly good), then what’s the big issue? I suppose people are less annoyed with them if they’re on shows like this, as opposed to the larger events like Wrestle Kingdom, but I digress.
This match featured pretty much all of the teams in the junior heavyweight tag team division, except for Birds Of Prey (and that might not be a regular team in that division anymore if Ospreay makes the full transition to heavyweight). These four teams put together a very entertaining match that featured plenty of fun action throughout. It wasn’t exactly an amazing, must-see affair, but it was very enjoyable for the thirteen or so minutes that it went. There was one noticeable botch involving El Phantasmo and Ishimori (they went for their codebreaker and moonsault combo, but I guess they didn’t exactly position themselves right, as Phantasmo ended up moonsaulting Ishimori, who was trying to hold Hiromu down after the codebreaker), though that didn’t harm the match too much.
The finish came following an exchange between El Desperado and SHO. BUSHI got involved, and tried to blow the black mist in El Desperado’s face, but he moved out of the way, and SHO took the black mist instead. Desperado took advantage of the confusion, and cradled SHO for the pin. Clearly this sets up the Suzuki-gun team of Desperado and Kanemaru as the first challengers for the new champions, so I presume we’ll be getting that match at some point during the New Beginning Tour. ***1/2
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, & IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions FinJuice (David Finlay & Juice Robinson) def. Bullet Club (The Guerrillas Of Destiny, Bad Luck Fale, & Chase Owens with Jado)
Up next we had a standard eight-man tag between Bullet Club and Hontai. Early on, they teased Chase Owens trying to convince Kota Ibushi to come join Bullet Club (the english commentary team did a great job referencing the fact that Owens knows Ibushi very well from their time spent teaming together in 2018 when the reunion of The Golden Lovers led to Ibushi having a very loose association with Bullet Club), but Ibushi quicky rebuked that offer, and match got underway. I don’t have much else to add about this one. It was a perfectly solid eight-man tag that featured some fine action. Towards the end of the bout, we saw some teamwork between Tanahashi and Ibushi, before the latter put Owens away with the Kamigoye. ***1/4
The actual match mainly served to set up the post-match. As the babyface side was celebrating, Ibushi and Tanahashi turned to face FinJuice, and made the infamous belt motion, signaling that they wanted a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles. All four shook hands after the fact, and seemed to come to an agreement. It certainly seems like we’re getting a FinJuice title defense vs. Ibushi and Tanahashi, which is an exciting breath of fresh air into the heavyweight tag team title scene. I fear that G.O.D., as the former champions, might get shoehorned into this somehow (because what do you do with those guys if they’re not in the tag title picture?), but hopefully, we get that two-on-two match. I have no idea who would actually win if that match were to take place, so that makes it even more exciting!
Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & Shingo Takagi) def. CHAOS (NEVER Openweight Champion Hirooki Goto & Tomohiro Ishii)
When the card was revealed at the start of the show, this was definitely the match that stuck out the most. These four guys personify the kind of wrestling that’s come to define the NEVER Openweight Title over the course of its history, and when the dust settled, they ended up having an excellent tag team contest. This was just an all-out hoss battle that went over sixteen minutes, and there was never a dull moment. All four guys had moments to shine throughout, and it was just an absolute blast to watch. Imagine how awesome the heavyweight tag team title scene would be if these two were regular teams in that division!! At one point, Ishii assisted Goto in hitting an insanely brutal reverse GTR on Shingo that looked like straight-up death. Eventually, it came down to Shingo and Goto, and the former Dragon Gate star managed to pin the NEVER Openweight Champion after hitting Last Of The Dragon, setting up yet another title match. If there’s one match you need to seek out from this show, it’s this one. A stellar tag team affair that was better than a number of the undercard bouts from the two Wrestle Kingdom shows. ****1/4
After the fact, Shingo took the mic, and reminded Goto that they were 1-1 in singles bouts. He then demanded a rubber match for Goto’s NEVER Openweight Title. Their previous meetings were fantastic, and I’m sure this third match will be no different.
CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, Will Ospreay, Robbie Eagles, & YOSHI-HASHI) def. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, RevPro Undisputed British Heavyweight Champion Zack Sabre Jr., Lance Archer, & Taichi) via DQ
It was a bit of a relief to see Will Ospreay in this match. There were rumors that came out following the first night of Wrestle Kingdom that Ospreay had suffered some sort of ankle or heel injury during his match with Hiromu Takahashi. The fact that he was involved in this bout at all seemed to indicate that whatever injury he might’ve suffered wasn’t nearly as bad as some feared originally. As for the match itself, we shocking didn’t get the Suzuki-gun pre-match attack to start this one off, but things eventually broke down, and everyone paired off as the brawling on the floor began. The two notable pairings we saw here were Will Ospreay and Zack Sabre Jr. (which included a funny moment where Sabre went over the english commentary team and called Ospreay a Tory), as well as Kazuchika Okada and Taichi. Eventually, Taichi got Okada back in the ring, and he was seemingly in a trance, fixated on the former IWGP Heavyweight Champion as he continued his assault. This fixation ultimately resulted in DQ, as Taichi busted out the Iron Fingers, and attacked Okada with them (commentary mentioned that this was the first time Taichi had actually used the Iron Fingers since his victory over Tetsuya Naito in the G1 Climax last year). Even though this ended in a DQ, it was still a pretty good eight man tag. There was a lot of fun action while it lasted, and it set up a couple of different matches for the next tour. Nobody likes to see DQ finishes (particularly in New Japan), but this was one of the rare instances where such a finish worked brilliantly for what they were trying to do. ***1/2
Afterward, Taichi set up Okada for the last ride, but Jon Moxley’s music hit, and IWGP United States Champion came out through the crowd as Taichi quickly retreated. However, Minoru Suzuki didn’t back down from Moxley, and the two continued their exchange from the night before. The difference this time around was that Moxley got the better of Suzuki, as he laid him out with the Death Rider. Out of all the matches that were either teased or set up on this show, I’m pretty sure that Moxley vs. Suzuki might be the most anticipated of the bunch.
Los Ingobernables de Japon (IWGP Heavyweight/Intercontinental Champion Tetsuya Naito & SANADA) def. Bullet Club (Jay White & KENTA with Gedo)
This was a very intriguing main event on paper, as it wasn’t really obvious who was going to take the fall here. In the end, SANADA scored the victory for LIJ after catching Jay White in a cradle and, once again, we got more matches teased for the next tour. Obviously, after how Night 2 of Wrestle Kingdom ended, everyone knew that Naito vs. KENTA was coming (and as of this writing, that match has been officially confirmed for the big New Beginning show in Osaka-Jo Hall in early February), but the finish here clearly sets up a potential SANADA vs. Jay White singles meeting as well. As far as this tag team main event goes, it was a perfectly fine bout for what it was. Naito didn’t do a ton of stuff in the ring early on, as he spent a decent chunk of that time getting thrown into the barricades by KENTA. He did get more involved later on, but as I mentioned previously, it would come down to SANADA and White. As expected, the Bullet Club team played their heel roles extremely well, with KENTA getting a ton of boos from the moment he made his entrance. While this was far from a bad match, it was mainly used to set up the post-match angle. ***1/4
LIJ didn’t have time to celebrate, as KENTA and Jay White quickly jumped them. Imagine telling someone in 2016 that those two would be the top guys in Bullet Club a few years down the road. KENTA and White both took turns cutting brief promos on their respective opponents as the show came to a close.
I absolutely loved this show. The retirement ceremony for Jushin Thunder Liger that kicked off the show will likely go down as one of the true highlights of pro-wrestling in 2020. Then, once we got the actual card, we got a bunch of very solid tag team matches of various types (with one truly great tag team bout in the form of Goto & Ishii vs. EVIL & Shingo). While that might not sound too out-of-the-ordinary, what made all of those tags that much more enjoyable was that, aside from the opener, they all set up or teased matches for the next tour. To add onto that, pretty much everything that was set up feels incredibly fresh. Naito vs. KENTA, White vs. SANADA, Okada vs. Taichi, Moxley vs. Suzuki, Ospreay vs. ZSJ, Goto vs. Shingo, FinJuice vs. Ibushi & Tanahashi, and Roppongi 3K vs. Suzuki-gun. That’s a great mix of matches that are either happening for the first time, happening for the first time in awhile, or are just generally exciting on paper, given who’s involved. From an in-ring standpoint, this show isn’t going to blow you away, but with the Liger retirement ceremony and the six-match card, this show is a total breeze to sit through. Plus, with what it was designed to do, it was an undeniable home run.