New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Beginning in Sapporo 2020 Night 2
February 2, 2020
Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center
Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan
Watch: NJPW World
Toa Henare def. Yota Tsuji
After years of toiling in opening tags and ravenously eating pins, it really feels like we’re on the precipice of Toa Henare’s coming out party. His arsenal is growing with every tour, and hell, so is his body. Kevin Kelly noted the differences in physique between Henare one year ago and today. Tsuji had an impressive showing as well, cycling through creative applications of the Boston Crab, and even breaking out a powerslam and spear for good measure. This was a lovely opener: hard-hitting, fast-paced, gone long before it could outstay its welcome. ***1⁄4
After the match, Toa hit the commentary table to say he was done with young lions and stumbled through requesting a shot at Shingo. Good luck with that, bub.
Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Manabu Nakanishi & Tiger Mask def. Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma & Yuya Uemura
Kevin Kelly mentioned eating breakfast with Nakanishi the morning before the show and it got me thinking about how much more interested I would be in watching Manabu Nakanishi eat breakfast than wrestle this match. An early sequence between Nakanishi and Honma had me checking if my internet was cutting out, but no, that’s just how those two move. When Uemura and Tiger Mask faced off it was a tremendous breath of fresh air, like they’d stepped out of the tub of maple syrup the other four had been wrestling in (sorry, I can’t get past Nakanishi’s breakfast). A few minutes before Tiger Mask finished Uemura with a Tiger Suplex, Nakanishi hoisted up Togi Makabe in an Argentine Backbreaker, performed with such ease that for just one brief moment you could have believed it was 2004 again. **1⁄4
El Phantasmo def. Gabriel Kidd
These two are at least somewhat familiar with each other; Gabriel Kidd has a 2018 singles victory over El Phantasmo in Kamikaze Pro. Of course, once you’re in the black trunks and boots it’s a different story entirely. The work was good and Phantasmo is great at bullying young lions, but this didn’t really go anywhere. As an early showcase for Kidd, it didn’t do anything to discourage me from thinking Shibata’s onto something special out in the LA Dojo. **1⁄2
CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii & Robbie Eagles) def. Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL, Shingo Takagi & BUSHI)
Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly feel any worse for Hirooki Goto, he dragged himself out to have his face smeared in the shit that is his NEVER Openweight title loss to Shingo. The two juniors paired off, as well as the prior night’s opponents. The match really took off though, when night one winners Shingo and Ishii went toe to toe. They had an extended stretch together in the middle of the match that was pure fireworks, beginning with the two taking turns battering the other’s face in the corner with elbows. Shingo Takagi’s NEVER reign is going to be something special, and much of this match played out almost like a commercial for it.
Eagles and Bushi were a treat to watch together, as usual. My favorite thing about Eagles is creativity he shows in using aerial maneuvers to attack a single limb. Here we got more of that, peaking with a great teamwork spot from the CHAOS team where Ishii and Goto helped set up the 450 splash to Bushi’s leg. Robbie won with the Ron Miller Special again, and it seems clear he’s headed for a Junior Heavyweight title shot sooner than later. This match was a blast. Does this make Eagles/Ishii/Goto the next NEVER Six-Man challengers? Do they want to be? ***1⁄2
Jon Moxley, Roppongi 3K & Ryusuke Taguchi def. Suzuki-Gun (Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & DOUKI)
I’m really digging the Moxley/Suzuki dynamic. These have hearts in their eyes for each other. From the moment Mox appeared on the ramp, he and Minoru were beating each other stupid, and never quit for the duration of the match. Really, the match was just a backdrop for them to fight around the arena. Eagle-eyed viewers might have caught a glimpse of Roppongi 3K and the Suzuki-Gun team of El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru hyping up their Junior Tag title bout on the 9th in Osaka, or even a snappy little closing stretch between Taguchi and Douki. There was a clear barrier between the two heavyweights and the rest of the competitors in the match though, and Taguchi caught a boot to the gut from both for even trying to breach it. ***
After the bell Mox and Suzuki brawled all the way to back, Taguchi raised the U.S. title in the ring for a laugh, YOH made a cameraman zoom in on him jiggling one of his pecs, and we got an announcement of a July tour through Hokkaido, to the delight of the audience.
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & Hiromu Takahashi) def. Bullet Club (Jay White, KENTA & Taiji Ishimori)
Jay and KENTA are the two best heels we’ve got in New Japan, and it’s been cool to see the two teaming up in the buildup to their respective matchups with LIJ members SANADA and Naito. They began the match by alternating beat downs on the Ingobernables junior representative, Hiromu. Having the two of them rough up Takahashi rather than Ishimori (who had pin-eater written all over him from the opening bell) was a nice, clever touch of heat. When KENTA and Naito first collide, there’s an anger to Naito’s attack that’s nice to see. Naito’s match with Jay White at Destruction in Kobe was one of my favorites of 2019; watching Naito have to reckon with an opponent who’s just as big a shithead as he is makes for quality pro wrestling. I
have high hopes for his first defense of the double gold against KENTA to provide similar fireworks, and nothing I’ve seen from either tag between them in Sapporo dissuades me from thinking it will.
That said, everyone was taking it pretty easy here, and fifteen minutes was a bit much. Surprisingly, the match ended with SANADA and Ishimori. I was happy to see Ishimori score some solid offense, including a Cipher UTAKI on the bigger man, before succumbing to a Skull End. **3⁄4
RevPro British Heavyweight Championship
Zack Sabre Jr. (c) def. Will Ospreay
Before the match, we were treated to a VTR that tried to establish some stakes. Here’s the deal though: From 2019 through today, there have been eleven bouts for the RevPro belt, and seven have taken place in a New Japan ring. Of the four that happened in RevPro, one of those was against SANADA at an event branded as an LIJ takeover. I enjoy the belt as a prop over Zack’s shoulder, but it means so little to its own promotion it makes it mean even less to me here. Will builds up the fact he’s failed in three attempts to win the belt, but his last attempt was in 2017. (If you’re wondering, the three champs he lost to were ZSJ, Shibata and AJ Styles — not bad) While I’d be curious to see what Will would do with the British Heavyweight Championship, my only real investment here is the fact that I’ve enjoyed watching these two wrestle each other in the past.
From the get-go I was fired up by Ospreay in 90’s Phoenix Suns colors, looking like the second coming of “Thunder” Dan Majerle. Beyond that, he made for a great dance partner, gamely keeping pace with ZSJ’s endless array of holds and transitions. Chris Charlton was fantastic on commentary, quickly noting that an early attempt at a Ground Cobra Twist was a nod to their last matchup, and also citing Billy Robinson’s catch wrestling philosophy that if a hold doesn’t force a tap within six seconds one should transition to the next hold, providing some insight into ZSJ’s style.
Initially, the two traded advantageous scenarios: when Will was able to create space and start running the ropes he’d take control, but the moment he made a mistake he’d find himself quickly entangled in ZSJ’s web of limbs. After weakening Sabre’s leg with a lengthy figure four, he began to open up his offensive arsenal, and wound up on the receiving end of a steeply angled half nelson suplex. It would end up being a recurring theme; Ospreay gains momentum, gives Zach an opening, and suffers for it. ZSJ made for an excellent matchup in pushing Will’s heavyweight transition. Ospreay exhibited a notable strength advantage, and as the match reached its climax his offense was all haymakers. He’d reverse a leaping guillotine attempt by simply muscling Zack over in a suplex, to a unison “Whoa!” from the commentary desk. Any doubts about his ability to take flight on an injured heel were vanquished by a Sasuke Special that would have cleared a fourth rope. Will, smelling blood, hoisted Zack up, practically ragdolling him around in search of a Stormbreaker. It would be his undoing, leaving the door open for another Ground Cobra Twist, rendering him unconscious.
At one point late in the match, Kevin Kelly remarked, “This match should have been over a couple of times already.” He was just referencing a series of narrow escapes both men had made, but it stuck with me as the match blew past the twenty-five-minute call. It could have stood a couple of minutes being shaved off, but for the most part, it’s a pristinely worked, well-structured match that’s easy to lose yourself in. Go out of your way. ****1⁄4
Kazuchika Okada def. Taichi
I know I just shouted him out in the last match, but Chris Charlton has really leveled up, and the way he took command in laying out the history between Okada and Taichi went a long way in making this feel like something more than a stop-gap for the former champ. The two last faced one another in singles competition in 2008, when Taichi Ishikawa pinned the young lion Kazuchika Okada with a simple dropkick. The two left on excursion at the same time, and returned on paths we identify them with today. Okada is the top of the mountain, and Taichi can only watch, asking the question customary of so many great heels before him, “Why not me?”
The match answered that question. He’s simply not as good as the Rainmaker. Outwitted and outmaneuvered by the end of nearly every exchange in the first fifteen minutes, when Taichi would return to devices outside the rulebook it was because he’d tried everything else. One edge he could exploit was Okada’s heavily taped neck, an injury he’d exacerbated with a Black Mephisto on the ramp the night prior. They did a killer job establishing the impact of attacks to the neck, Okada rolling out of the ring reeling after a single high-angle backdrop. I also thought it was appropriate that Iizuka’s iron fingers were a factor. Okada was only the second man Taichi had attacked them with in the year they’d been in his possession; they signify the weight this matchup holds for Taichi.
The Sapporo audience, an almost hometown crowd for Taichi, were a major factor. After exploiting the neck, the iron fingers, Miho Abe and even Red Shoes, Taichi took control late in the match with an offensive stretch reminiscent of his former mentor, Toshiaki Kawada. “Taichi!” chants rang out in full volume while Okada was having his neck wrung out in the Stretch Plum. The glimpses we’ve gotten of Taichi as a bullshit-free singles wrestler are so compelling it’s difficult not to root for him when we get another. After failing to put Okada away on a Last Ride powerbomb, Taichi threw a small fit that spelled the end of the match. Despite every underhanded tactic he’d endured, Okada never broke from his trademark stoic, cool demeanor, and it would only be minutes before a final Rainmaker would close out a dispirited Taichi after thirty relatively painless minutes. ****1⁄4
In his post-match promo, Okada taunted the crowd and his opponent for the chants during the match. I’m always fascinated in finding what state the former champion is in after a long title reign; if we’re getting asshole Okada back, count me in. Sure beats balloon man.
If you forced me to choose, I think I preferred the first of the two Sapporo New Beginning shows. Goto-Shingo was my favorite match from either, and the junior tag from night one put that undercard over the top. I think we’re better served judging the two nights as a package, though, and I’d call them a huge success. All four of the marquee singles matches were stellar, and the opening tags were a breeze. If you’re in a rush, be sure to watch the two main events and try to find time for Henare-Tsuji.