New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Beginning in Sapporo Night 1
February 1, 2020
Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center Hokkai Kitayell

Watch: New Japan World

Meet our previewers:

John Carroll: John is writing their portion of this preview absurdly early (like January 22nd and 23rd!) because they’ll be on a little bit of a mini-vacation the week of these two shows. So if anything gets changed that week they’re gonna be real mad. Follow them on Twitter @toshanshuinla or their podcast @wrestleomakase.

Jonathan Hernandez: Jonathan is making his VOW preview debut here, so he’d better not blow it. Oh God, he’s gonna blow it. You can find him on Twitter at @fatmansalright

Tiger Mask & Yuya Uemura vs. El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori

John: Not hard to see what’s going on with this opener, as the team of ELP & Ishimori get to rebound from their junior tag title loss at Wrestle Kingdom with a sure victory here. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see them emerge as the next challengers for Roppongi 3K, should SHO & YOH get past Despy & Kanemaru in Osaka. Not a ton else to say about this one, except it should be fun. Uemura has fast become my favorite young lion now that Narita is on excursion, so hopefully he gets a chance to shine here. I’m sure he probably will. Prediction: El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori

Jonathan: The Junior Tag Title reign of Ishimori and Phantasmo felt like a success. The two balanced each other’s shortcomings, and a hot feud with Birds of Prey put the titles under a rare spotlight. With the belts back on Roppongi 3K, both this team and the division feel sort of aimless again. The outcome of this match is obvious, my only hope is for a fiery sequence between Uemura and Ishimori before the young lion has to hold El-P’s boot in his crotch. The intention here might be to heat the Bullet Club squad back up for another title challenge. If so, my fingers are crossed Despy and Kanemaru snag the belts in Osaka, setting up an old fashioned heel-off with enough foreign objects and outside interference to rival the Laff-A-Lympics. Prediction: El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori

Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma & Toa Henare vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Manabu Nakanishi & Yota Tsuji

John: The Nakanishi retirement tour is on all the undercards of the New Beginning tour, as he’ll be on the entire tour even going back to the house shows that don’t make tape in the week prior to Sapporo (starting 1/25). The undercards could use that hook, especially since they’re running split crews until the tour-ending Osaka show with a bunch of the roster over on the New Beginning in USA tour. Nakanishi on this tour is actually nothing new though, as he’s worked at least part of the tour for the last 7 years (the last time he missed it was 2012, when he was out with his long-term injury) even as his overall number of matches has plummeted over that time, hovering from 75-91 from 2013-15 and peaking at 126 (!) in 2016 before falling to 84, 62 and 49 in the last three years. Even as they’ve gradually downcycled him, he always works this tour, and his last few months as an active wrestler will be no different. Anyway, Tsuji will take the fall here as the team of GBHenare will pick up the victory. Prediction: Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma & Toa Henare

Jonathan: Yikes, would you look at that list of names. They really rolled out the “skip this match” all-star squad for this one. Still, there’s a silver lining. Toa Henare’s push from pin-eater to pin-eater-who-can-beat-young-lions has been a total blast to watch. When given the opportunity, he’s put in consistently strong work against a very game class of rookies (see the Wrestle Kingdom Night 1 and New Year Dash openers). This match is almost certain to close out with a hot stretch between Toa and Tsuji, and that alone might make it worth a peek. On the other hand, every variation of this match on the Road To shows has ended with Makabe giving Nakanishi a King Kong Knee Drop. What a lovely retirement gift! Prediction: Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma & Toa Henare

Will Ospreay, Roppongi 3K & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Suzukigun (Zack Sabre Jr, El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & DOUKI)

John: Our first hype match of the night will see the focus on Ospreay and ZSJ ahead of their British Heavyweight Title match the next night, although Roppongi 3K and Despy/Kanemaru are building to a junior tag title match on the 9th in Osaka as well. This seems like a good time to mention that I don’t really like the way New Japan structures their post-WK time: you have essentially the end of the previous year that is Wrestle Kingdom and then all these exciting new feuds starting out at New Year Dash, but then we take a big break to fart around with CMLL for a while and lose all momentum, and then the New Beginning tour starts out with a bunch of untelevised house shows. The feuds that really feel like they get screwed by that set-up are the ones that have their big matches on these Sapporo shows, as essentially this one match and ZSJ calling Will a Tory back at NYD are the entire build for the British title match. The matches that are main eventing Night 1 have it even worse! Only the matches headlining Osaka will get a real build of any kind, since they get hype matches on these two shows and then also get featured on the three Korakuen Hall shows that follow Sapporo. But anyway, ZSJ will probably put Ospreay in some more holds and/or yell more apparently untrue political accusations (Will claims he voted Labour, and he seems more like a working class type to me so I’m gonna take him at his word) and I’m sure by the end of this I’ll feel more hyped for their singles match the next night than I do sitting here and typing right now. As far as who gets the win, DOUKI always sticks out like a sore thumb when it comes time to take a pin, but I wouldn’t put it past Desperado & Kanemaru getting a (probably illicit) win over Roppongi 3K to build heat for Osaka either. I’ll go with the safe pick though. Prediction: Will Ospreay, Roppongi 3K & Ryusuke Taguchi

Jonathan: It’s funny, I took Will as a more of an “I don’t vote, politics are bullshit, man,” kinda guy. Matches for the RevPro title always feel more like a mockery of RevPro than a genuine feud. Was Tanahashi going to defend this thing at the Cockpit if he beat ZSJ again? I absolutely loved the G1 match between these two this past Summer; at points it felt like they had a sort of chemistry that takes years to develop. I suppose that’s because they do — the following night will be their twelfth singles match against one another, spanning six years and nine promotions. Their clash in styles gets to grow and change shape with Will’s continued evolution into a heavyweight, and I’m most excited for the quick glimpse at that we’ll get here.

As for the other match being built up here, what else is there to talk about with the combination of R3K and Despy/Kanemaru? Over the course of Yoshinobu Kanemaru and El Desperado’s 309 day reign as champs through most of 2018, of their six title matches, four were against SHO and YOH in some capacity. One thing sweetening the matchup this time is how nice it is to have Despy back, who learned why you don’t go having deathmatches with Jun Kasai on your day off. My guess is Taguchi pins DOUKI after everyone else finishes up, both of them still warm after a stint farting around with CMLL. I hope someone is as eager to dance with the Coach now that Fuego’s gone. Prediction: Will Ospreay, Roppongi 3K & Ryusuke Taguchi

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Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI vs. Ryu Lee & Robbie Eagles

John: Robbie Eagles definitely has a bone to pick with the New Japan office, as despite pinning Hiromu Takahashi in a tag match at Korakuen Hall just weeks before Hiromu went on to win the junior belt from Ospreay at the Dome he was passed over for the first title shot. Instead Hiromu nominated his old rival Ryu “How many times do we need to call him Ex-Dragon in these pieces, do you guys remember yet” Lee as his first defense, to take place in Osaka. Should Hiromu get through Lee you’d have to think Eagles will be next in line for a title shot, and maybe he’d even look to challenge Lee if he picks up the victory, so that adds a level of intrigue to this match for sure. I think Robbie will have a big year in the junior division, especially if Ospreay is moving up to heavyweight full time, and he very well could start it off by pinning BUSHI here. Prediction: Ryu Lee & Robbie Eagles

Jonathan: You know, sometimes it feels like Dragon Lee’s recent run as Junior champion gets overlooked, a footnote beside all the noise Will Ospreay and Shingo Takagi were making. Lee’s output from MSG to Dominion was all stellar, and I couldn’t be happier he’s back for a whole year, albeit with a new moniker. It’s interesting that neither he nor Hiromu are on the following night’s show. This match is tough to call. BUSHI’s presence would lead you to believe the LIJ team is losing, but who gets to pin him? The company clearly has big plans for Ryu Lee — they gambled entering murky waters with CMLL in signing him at all, then plugged him right into Liger’s retirement match. I can’t imagine Takahashi is dropping the belt anytime soon, do you take any opportunity you have to strengthen Lee? On the other hand, if Gedo’s taught me anything it’s that everything that happens in New Japan happens for a reason. Eagles has been on an upward trajectory ever since he turned up and his pinning Hiromu at Korakuen in December looms large over the division. Either way, all four of these men are brilliant, this match is certain to bang. Prediction: Ryu Lee & Robbie Eagles 

Tetsuya Naito & SANADA vs. Jay White & KENTA

John: These next two matches are both pretty big for New Japan hype tags, as you’ve got no obvious pin eaters in either of them. Naito and KENTA will resume what had already been a heated feud coming out of Wrestle Kingdom, as KENTA of course attacked the new double champion right during the middle of his big celebration (before he could get out the “de Japon” and complete his Tokyo Dome roll call), then continued the beatdown the following night at New Year Dash. Some Naito fans didn’t care for this angle much and I understand why; after waiting at minimum two years since the infamous 2018 Dome match, and some of them for far longer, it felt like a low blow to have that big Tokyo Dome roll call ripped from you at the end just when you thought you were finally going to get it. But on the other hand, yanking something like that away from you is kind of classic pro wrestling, and it resulted in enormous heel heat for KENTA both at the Dome and the following night at New Year Dash, so I don’t know how you can call the angle any kind of failure. My read on the angle is also that New Japan’s bookers were wary of the idea of finally giving Naito fans that release and big moment they were waiting for without also including a hook for them to immediately come back, worrying that they would lose interest after finally getting the big payoff at the end of years of being jerked around. And honestly, that’s a fair concern. So all of that made sense, even if I can understand why it might leave any individual Naito fan with a bad taste in their mouth. Meanwhile, SANADA pinned Jay White with an O’Connor roll when this identical tag match headlined the aforementioned New Year Dash, so White is out for revenge and the two will also meet in a singles match in Osaka. Will SANADA score another roll-up victory over White here? It’s very possible, but I think what’s even more likely is White evening the score and pinning SANADA. Prediction: Jay White & KENTA

Jonathan: The Intercontinental Title match between Naito and Jay White at Destruction in Kobe this past September was one of my favorite matches of the year. On top of being an excellent match, it was a great clash of characters. The two were such shitbags to each other and it really upped the stakes as the match wore on. I mention all that, because it looks like Naito and KENTA’s feud is going down a similarly enticing path. KENTA’s “fuck this guy” highlight reel is unbelievable, from the pitch perfect heel turn atop Shibata’s chest, to cutting off Naito’s long awaited LIJ roll call at the Dome. KENTA and White are the best heels in the company and it’s not even close. It’s gone a long way in turning Bullet Club back into a formidable heel group from the directionless t-shirt company it’d devolved into. It should be a treat to have the two of them working together again in this rematch from New Year Dash. As for a winner, SANADA’s quiet demeanor is an outlier in this group and I could see them leaning into that, frustrating Jay with another roll-up victory. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito & SANADA

Kazuchika Okada & Jon Moxley vs. Minoru Suzuki & Taichi

John: This is a big weekend for Jon Moxley in NJPW, as he will team up with someone other than Shota Umino for the first time ever. Moxley gets referred to as “FREE” as his NJPW alignment, indicating he isn’t considered a part of the New Japan home army or obviously any of the other units either, but others with this designation like TJP and the Amazing Red have still teamed up with the main army or CHAOS before. But until Moxley came out and (perhaps inadvertently) saved Okada in the process of getting his hands on Minoru Suzuki at New Year Dash, he had never shown much interest in teaming with anyone in New Japan other than his own personal Young Lion “Shooter”. Suzuki and Moxley are on a collision course for Moxley’s newly won US Title, as after Moxley defeated Juice Robinson on 1/5 at the Dome Suzuki came out to confront him. Suzuki had been in the ring with then-US Champion Lance Archer back at the finals of the World Tag League when Moxley came down to confront Lance, and he delivered his signature Death Rider DDT to not just Archer but also Suzuki, presumably just because Suzuki was there. Well, Suzuki has never been well known for his overflowing sense of forgiveness or understanding, so the fact that he decided to come and seek payback at the Dome isn’t really surprising. The two will meet in the semi-main of the big tour-ending show in Osaka, with Moxley’s US title on the line. Meanwhile, Taichi targeted Okada on NYD, which definitely makes sense for his sort of character. He’s like a vulture looking to pick apart an injured animal, and Okada coming out of NYD without his signature IWGP Heavyweight Title and a huge amount of tape on his neck and shoulders definitely fit the bill. This will be their only major hype match since the following night’s event is headlined by their big singles battle, and I’ll be really interested in seeing what the finish here actually is. Nobody here really stands out to me as obvious to take a pin, which could mean a DQ finish and a big schmoz. If that happens, it means Okada & Moxley will almost certainly be the winners, so let’s go with that. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada & Jon Moxley

Jonathan: Regardless of how you feel about the matches, it’s tough to not get a real “for love of the game” vibe from Jon Moxley. Ever since leaving his old gig the guy’s been everywhere. Bear with me here, but I remember seeing Jackass 2 and remarking on how Johnny Knoxville, whose net worth by then likely doubled the rest of the cast, was still the most eager to go out and get himself killed. That’s the same sort of vibe I’ve been getting from Mox, from the AEW Full Gear deathmatch with Kenny Omega to flying out for the World Tag League Final in Hiroshima just to DDT Lance Archer. Hell, the guy practically leapt right from the WWE into the G1. Minoru Suzuki presents a sort of violence that Moxley froths at the mouth over, and I’m happy for any opportunity to watch the two go at it. 

Between the three New Beginning shows, the matchup between Okada and Taichi might be the one I’m most excited for. The response to Taichi matches has always been funny to me; when he cheats he’s the dirt worst (he is a heel, mind you), but when he wrestles a clean match folks climb over each other to heap on the praise. I believe we’re in store for the latter. He’s been extremely selective with Takashi Iizuka’s iron fingers since claiming them in February of last year. He only utilized them once through the remainder of 2019, attacking Naito during the G1. In pulling them out against Okada at New Year Dash, it would seem he’s trying to make a statement. I think we’re in store for a real war between these two. As for a pick, John’s idea makes a lot of sense, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say Suzuki pins Moxley clean with a Gotch-Style Piledriver. The two have traded the upper hand in previous encounters, Suzuki getting the better of their brawl at the Dome, while Moxley ended up on top at Dash. I think Minoru steals one here, before Mox successfully defends the U.S. Title in Osaka. Prediction: Minoru Suzuki & Taichi

Tomohiro Ishii vs. EVIL

John: Okay, so there’s really no good reason why this match needs to happen again, but are you complaining?! It’s Ishii and EVIL! They’ll probably hit each other very hard, they’ll scream each other’s name once or twice, and we’ll all have a good ‘ol time. The winner here could be a bit of a spoiler for the following match, as I think they’re likely to be the next challenger for the NEVER Openweight Title. Either Goto-EVIL or Shingo-Ishii would make a ton of sense as your next NEVER title match. So I guess I’m also spoiling my main event winner when I say that I think EVIL is winning this. Interestingly enough he has never beaten Ishii in a singles match before, going 0-8 against him. That includes five singles meetings when EVIL was still Young Lion Takaaki Watanabe, all in 2012, but even if you wanna throw those out you still have two Ishii wins in 2016 (in the 1st Round of the New Japan Cup and an ROH World TV Title defense that took place in noted Ring of Honor hotbed Amagasaki) and another one last year at Wrestling Dontaku. But I think EVIL will finally overcome the Stone Pitbull here, and probably move on to be Hirooki Goto’s next challenger, perhaps even confronting him after the main event or backstage (although there’s plenty of time on the rest of the tour too, I guess). Prediction: EVIL

Jonathan: When these two last faced off at Wrestling Dontaku in May, they began the match by trading gnarly looking elbows for nearly a minute straight, and it didn’t get much prettier from there. It was the Budweiser of wrestling matches — it lacked nuance or even good taste and I wanted a dozen more of them. The rivalry between the two still lives on in EVIL’s continued usage of the Scorpion Death Lock, a move he adopted as an antagonistic nod toward Ishii’s mentor Riki Choshu. While his partner SANADA found himself dabbling in the main event scene last year, EVIL was quietly having a pretty noteworthy 2019 campaign himself. He carried the momentum of the Ishii bout into a very strong showing in the G1 (I particularly enjoyed his matches with Ibushi and Tanahashi) and finished up with the tag match at New Year Dash that had everybody talking. Tomohiro Ishii’s one of the best wrestlers in the world, but he’s 44 years old and EVERYTHING IS EVIL in 2020, baby. EVIL wins another hoss fever dream of a match and positions himself as the next challenger for Goto’s title. I can’t wait. Prediction: EVIL

NEVER Openweight Championship
Hirooki Goto © vs. Shingo Takagi

John: Shingo Takagi hasn’t even been in New Japan for very long- King of Pro Wrestling in October marked his first anniversary since coming into the company- but already Hirooki Goto has emerged as perhaps his biggest rival, and it really makes all the sense in the world. They both wrestle a very straight-ahead and physical style, they both have a serious and often even stoic persona, and they both incorporate traditional Japanese elements into their presentations. They’re basically two patriotic, beefy Japanese dudes who are always ready to stand and trade, and they’ve shown great chemistry across all of their meetings so far. Shingo defeated Goto on the last night of the G1 Climax in what was one of his signature victories since coming over to NJPW, but Goto repaid the favor in a rematch at Destruction in Kobe. Things went quiet between the two for a while, but after Goto won the NEVER title at the Dome he and Shingo came face to face once again. In by far the highlight of the New Year Dash show, the team of Shingo and EVIL defeated Goto and Ishii when Shingo pinned Goto clean with the Last of the Dragon. Of course, that made him a more than worthy first challenger for Goto’s NEVER title reign.

So who walks out of Sapporo with the NEVER Openweight Title? I think a lot of folks would like to see Shingo win the belt here, and I would count myself among them, but I have to throw some cold water on the likelihood of it happening for a few reasons: 1) While people joke about Goto being a mega-geek, I don’t know if they’re really gonna have him lose this belt immediately after winning it. He’s usually not THAT big of a geek. 2) Shingo has been announced for the Wrestlecon Supershow and Pancakes & Piledrivers for Wrestlemania weekend (along with ROH’s Supercard of Honor event) and it just feels unlikely that a reigning NJPW champion is doing that kind of US indie tour. It’s possible I guess since the NEVER belt isn’t exactly the IWGP Heavyweight Title, but I would still be somewhat surprised. So when you add that to Goto needing to get revenge from Shingo pinning him in the NYD tag, I think it seems pretty likely that everyone’s favorite bridesmaid is walking out of here still the NEVER Openweight Champion. Either way, it should be another great match between these two and I can’t wait. Prediction: Hirooki Goto

Jonathan: Go watch the closing stretch of that New Year Dash tag match between Shingo and Goto. Listen to the sounds those strikes make. You hype yet? Goto held the NEVER title for most of 2018, dropping it last to Kota Ibushi in December. While it seemed like the time apart would be good for them, 2019 proved to be a bit of a disaster for both Goto and the belt. Goto spent much of the first chunk of the year as Jay White’s recurring punchline (and sometimes punching bag) when he wasn’t busy being eliminated in the first round of the New Japan Cup. After taking a break to go train with Katsuyori Shibata, he came back looking shredded and motivated. He beat Jay White and compiled an impressive 10 points in the G1, but even that got canceled out by what a complete travesty the “G1’s G is for Goto!” shirt was. He’d spend a few months adrift in multiman tags until finally losing to Jay White again at Power Struggle. 

The NEVER title didn’t have it much better. Four of the six men who held it failed to defend it even once, and Will Ospreay’s two defenses were against Chris Brookes and Dalton Castle in RevPro and ROH rings, so I really couldn’t blame you for not counting those either. Any prestige the title held was now circling the drain. When KENTA finally took the belt in August, it came with a complimentary concussion. 

At Wrestle Kingdom this year, the pair was reunited when Goto defeated KENTA in a proper hard hitting, welt inducing affair, befitting of the NEVER name. Now that they’ve sown their oats it’s time the two of them settled down for a bit. At New Beginning, Goto (who’s still pretty shredded, by the way) will beat Shingo in a fantastically violent match and presumably do more of the same against EVIL next, re-establishing both himself and his title. Shingo, we can only hope, is onto bigger and better things. Prediction: Hirooki Goto