New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Beginning In Sapporo 2020: Night 1
February 1, 2020
Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center
Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Bullet Club (RevPro British Cruiserweight Champion El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori) def. Tiger Mask & Yuya Uemura

The show kicked off with a tag team bout that (as the English commentary team noted) was actually a rematch from the Super Jr. Tag League last fall. ELP and Ishimori won that first encounter, and they got the victory over Tiger Mask & Yuya Uemura once again when Ishimori made Uemura tap out to the Yes Lock. This was a fine opening contest. Uemura started off hot, but got immediately cut off by the duo from Bullet Club. They isolated the young lion for a few minutes (which included a series of back rakes) before Tiger Mask got tagged in. The babyface side got a few close falls, and the finishing sequence between Ishimori and Uemura was cool, but the result was never in doubt. A solid win for the former IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Title holders as they look to get back in the title hunt. ***

GBH (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma) & Toa Henare def. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Manabu Nakanishi, & Yota Tsuji

With only a few weeks left until his retirement, Manabu Nakanishi was probably looking to close out his career on a high note with a few victories. Unfortunately for Nakanishi, he had a young lion on his team, so you knew that he was going to be on the losing end of this particular six-man tag. Toa Henare would end up scoring the win for his side after hitting the Toa Bottom on Yota Tsuji. This was easily the worst match on the entire show, but considering who was involved, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. While, Nakanishi got some shine early, he missed a knee drop on Henare, and that led to GBH working over his legs for a little bit. We did get a cool spot towards the end where Tenzan, Nakanishi, and Tsuji had their opponents locked in their respective submission holds (the Anaconda Vice, the Torture Rack, and the Boston Crab). That was really the only memorable thing about this match. The closing exchange between Henare and Tsuji was probably the best part of the bout, as far as the actual in-ring work is concerned. **

CHAOS (Will Ospreay, SHO, & YOH) & Ryusuke Taguchi def. Suzuki-gun (RevPro Undisputed British Heavyweight Champion Zack Sabre Jr., El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, & DOUKI)

Of course, Suzuki-gun jumped their opponents before the bell, as they typically do. This bout actually had some potential on paper, and it ended up being pretty good. After the opening exchange, the Suzuki-gun side managed to isolate SHO until he was able to make the hot tag to Ospreay. From there, we got some really good back and forth between Ospreay and Sabre, which served as a very nice preview for their British Heavyweight Title bout on Night 2. Things broke down again, and it came down to DOUKI vs. Taguchi, with the latter picking up the victory after connecting with the Dodon. A very entertaining eight-man tag that served as a preview for both Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Will Ospreay and the upcoming IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title bout between Roppongi 3K and the Suzuki-gun duo of El Desperado/Yoshinobu Kanemaru. Nothing really to complain about with this one. It was exactly what it needed to be. ***1/2

Afterward, Ospreay posed with the British Heavyweight Title, but that wouldn’t be the last we would see of him or Zack Sabre Jr. on this night.

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Robbie Eagles & ROH World TV Champion Ryu Lee def. Los Ingobernables de Japon (IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI)

This was the first of three very interesting two-on-two tag team matches on this card, as we had the LIJ juniors taking on the first-time team of Robbie Eagles and Ryu Lee. Of course, this was meant to be a preview of the big Hiromu Takahashi/Ryu Lee match in Osaka for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title, and oh boy did we get an exciting preview of that match. This tag bout got started with an awesome chop exchange between Lee and Takahashi that lasted a good thirty seconds. Following the opening few minutes, the LIJ side managed to isolate Eagles for a bit, but the built for Hiromu vs. Lee continued once Lee tagged back in. At one point, Lee threw some shade at LIJ by hitting Naito’s Combination Cabron on Hiromu. The pace picked back up in the final few minutes, and it eventually came down to BUSHI vs. Eagles. In the end, Eagles scored the submission victory after getting BUSHI to tap out to the Ron Miller Special. This was easily the best match of the night, up to this point. It’s hard not to have a really strong match when these four are involved. While this obviously did a very solid job in building up Hiromu vs. Ryu Lee, it also gave Robbie Eagles another solid victory, as the english commentary side reminded us that Eagles did score a win over Hiromu on one of the Korakuen Hall shows right before Christmas. In fact, it’s the only pinfall loss that Hiromu’s had since his return to New Japan, so it definitely seems like we’ll be getting a Hiromu vs. Eagles title bout at some point, which should be pretty awesome. ***3/4

Bullet Club (KENTA & Jay White with Gedo) def. Los Ingobernables de Japon (IWGP Heavyweight/Intercontinental Champion Tetsuya Naito & SANADA)

I was honestly a little surprised that they decided to do a straight rematch from New Year Dash on this tour. Going in, it really wasn’t clear who would end up taking the fall. With the benefit of hindsight, however, the finish couldn’t have been more obvious. Jay White ended up pinning SANADA with a rollup after Gedo threw a chair at SANADA’s head. This result made a ton of sense, as it evens things up between SANANDA and White, since SANADA was the one who pinned White at New Year Dash. I actually like how they did the finishes in both cases. Even though they both have pinfall wins over each other, they were both via a flash pin of some kind, so neither guy has a truly decisive victory over the other yet. Beyond that, there really isn’t much else to say about this match. While it was still a perfectly fine tag team bout, I viewed as a step down from their original encounter. The fact that we got nearly five minutes of stalling to start certainly didn’t help. You could’ve easily shaved a few minutes off of this one, but the majority of action was relatively solid, so I can’t totally knock this one. Again, it did exactly what it needed to do, in terms of building up the two singles matches involving these guys. ***

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & Taichi) def. Kazuchika Okada & IWGP United States Champion Jon Moxley

The first thing I need to make note of was the fact that Jon Moxley was still wearing his eye patch, as he is still selling the attack by Chris Jericho and the Inner Circle from a few weeks ago on AEW Dynamite (the English commentary team did bring up that the eye patch was the result of an injury caused by a Chris Jericho attack, but they never mentioned AEW). A ton of credit has to be given to Moxley for really going all the way with this eye injury. Not only did he have the eye patched up on the Jericho Cruise, but he even carried it over all the way across the world to an entirely different promotion. That’s true dedication. Now out of the three big two-on-two tags on this card, this one was the hardest to figure out, in terms of who would take the fall. The match itself was fairly entertaining, as two singles feuds involved (Okada vs. Taichi and Moxley vs. Suzuki) basically paired off and brawled with each other. This included a hilarious moment in the crowd when Moxley and Suzuki both picked up a barricade and started jousting. When they were actually wrestling in the ring, the action was pretty good. Much like Hiromu Takahashi and Ryu Lee earlier, Moxley and Suzuki had some brutal chop exchanges and strike battles, to the point that Moxley’s eye patch and bandage were basically torn off. Okada and Taichi had some solid exchanges as well, but in the end, Suzuki managed to pin Jon Moxley after hitting him with the Gotch Piledriver. I guess that was the only result that really made sense, as you didn’t want Taichi or Okada beating each other, and it wouldn’t be ideal if Moxley just beat his next title challenger clean in the middle. I’d put this a tad below the Eagles/Ryu Lee vs. LIJ tag from earlier, but it was still a very good bout. ***1/2

The insanity didn’t stop after the bell rang. Taichi continued to go after Okada following the match, and went to use the Iron Fingers. Okada seemed to send Taichi packing with a couple of dropkicks, but then Zack Sabre Jr. appeared out of nowhere and attacked Okada! This gave Taichi the opportunity to use the Iron Fingers on a prone Okada. Will Ospreay then ran out in an attempt to make the save, but Sabre took him out with the Zack Driver. Taichi finished his attack off with a Black Mephisto on the entrance ramp, before cutting a promo on Okada in the ring. A big angle here that really put over the Dangerous Tekkers strong ahead of their respective singles matches with Okada and Ospreay.

Tomohiro Ishii def. EVIL

During the entrances, the English commentary team pointed out that EVIL was actually 0-8 against Ishii in singles matches coming into this show, and that goes all the way back to when EVIL was a young lion (when he wrestled as Takaaki Watanabe). The English commentary team also added that EVIL and Ishii haven’t won any singles matches since early August, during the final few nights of the G1 Climax (I’m sure Chris Samsa had a big hand in providing some of these stats). So basically, both of these men were in desperate need of a singles victory coming into this bout. To the shock of absolutely nobody, these two had an awesome hard-hitting affair that featured some great back-and-forth action for just over twenty minutes (it ended up beating out the main event by a minute or two to be the longest match on the show, which was a bit of a surprise). It did feel like there was something missing from this one that kept it from being on par with the main event, but there was still great wrestling from start to finish. Some of the lariats that were thrown between these two looked absolutely brutal, and at points, it really seemed like they were simply trying to one up each other. This was most prominent when both were able to connect with their own massive superplex in the second half of the match. Of course, the closing stretch was incredible, and we saw some great counters and exchanges. Both men were trading more lariats, more headbutts, and even dragon suplexes, but eventually, Ishii emerged victorious after hitting the vertical drop brainbuster. Unfortunately for EVIL, his losing streak in singles competition against the Stone Pitbull continues. Again, while I feel like these two have the ability to have a better match, this was still pretty fantastic. It should be interesting to see whether this win leads to Ishii getting a title shot of some kind in the near future. ****1/4

NEVER Openweight Title – Shingo Takagi def. Hirooki Goto (c)

Not only was this main event for the NEVER Openweight Title, but it also served as the rubber match between Hirooki Goto and Shingo Takagi. Back in August, Shingo picked up a victory over Goto during the B Block Finals of the G1 Climax, which essentially eliminated Goto from contention to win the Block. Goto got a measure of revenge by beating Shingo in a rematch during the Destruction Tour a month later, but after Shingo defeated Goto in a tag team bout at New Year Dash, he demanded a rubber match with the NEVER Openweight Title up for grabs.

We were all hoping that these two would put on another awesome match, and I’m proud to say that they absolutely lived up to those expectations. This was simply an amazing bout right from the opening bell. Goto and Shingo beat the absolute crap out of each other for twenty minutes, and it was a blast to watch. The chops were brutal, the strikes were vicious, and the crop was stomping their feet by the time we got to the closing stretch. Being in the NEVER division seems to always bring the best out of Goto, while Shingo was his usually great self. The second half featured some incredible stuff from both guys. Shingo busted out the Top Rope Death Valley Driver that we saw in the Best Of The Super Junior Finals against Will Ospreay, while Goto busted out the Shouten Kai, which is one of my favorite moves in all of New Japan (Goto doesn’t use that one very often, but I love it when he does). There were some insanely hard strikes towards the end, and after Goto hit the Reverse GTR, his attempt at the regular GTR was blocked, and Shingo connected with Made In Japan for an awesome nearfall. This was the beginning of the end for Goto, however, as Shingo followed up with Last Of The Dragon to capture the NEVER Openweight Title for the first time.

So just under a month after Tetsuya Naito became a double champion, Los Ingobernables de Japon now has their second double champion in the form of Shingo Takagi (who is also one-third of the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Champions). It’s unfortunate that Hirooki Goto’s reign was cut short after just winning the title at the Tokyo Dome. However, it’s very obvious that Shingo Takagi is going to be a massive player in New Japan over the next few years, so I have no issues with him getting the title here. As much as I love Goto (and I am a big Goto fan, much like Joe Lanza), this is his role. He may win the NEVER Title or the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles, and he might get his occasional Heavyweight or Intercontinental Title shot, but his main role now is putting guys like Shingo over. It remains to be seen whether Shingo has a long reign with this title, but I hope that he does. He’s perfect for this title, and as we saw in the post-match (where he had a brief confrontation with SHO, who was on commentary), he’s the perfect guy to make this title a truly openweight title, with defenses against juniors as well as heavyweights. As for the main event itself, although I still prefer their G1 Climax bout, this match was right on par with it. Awesome stuff from beginning to end, and I would absolutely recommend going out of your way to seek this one out. ****1/2

Final Thoughts

The first of two nights in Sapporo was a relatively entertaining show from start to finish. If you happen to be a little short on time, you can easily skip the first two matches (unless you’re a completist, or if you’re someone who enjoys watching the progression of the young lions). As for the rest of the undercard, I would say everything from the CHAOS/Suzuki-gun eight-man tag through Okada/Moxley vs. Suzuki/Taichi is worth checking out. While the match quality does vary, all four of those tags are very solid, and do a great job building up the rest of the big bouts coming up on the tour. When it comes to the top two matches, if you’re someone who enjoys the hard-hitting style that comes with the wrestlers associated with the NEVER Openweight Title, then you’re going to love EVIL vs. Ishii and Goto vs. Shingo. Both of those matches were absolutely fantastic, though if I had to pick, I would say that Goto vs. Shingo was the match of the night.