New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Beginning in Osaka
February 9, 2020
Osaka Jo Hall

Watch: New Japan World

Meet our previewers:

John Carroll: John is back for yet another NJPW preview, as we wrap up what’s been a real fun New Beginning tour inside Osaka Jo Hall for the first time ever. Follow them on Twitter @toshanshuinla or their podcast @wrestleomakase. America is a failed state!

Rich Kraetsch: Rich is taking a break from VOW Match of the Year season to help preview this huge show. Follow Rich and Voices of Wrestling on Twitter @VoicesWrestling and keep up with our MOTY countdown at http://voicesofwrestling.com/moty19

Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima vs. Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Toa Henare & Ryusuke Taguchi

John: The Nakanishi retirement tour marches on with his final match ever in Osaka Jo Hall, billed as such in fact, which might lead you to believe that he’s had some big moments here. Well, he hasn’t in this building specifically, but he has had a handful of big moments elsewhere in the city, mostly at the building now called the EDION Arena Osaka (which is where New Beginning in Osaka took place until this year, and also used to be the home of Dominion until 2015). Let’s go over some of the highlights: in 2002 he and Osama Nishimura went to a 60 minute draw with IWGP Tag Team Champions Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Manabu Nakanishi, the first and to date only time limit draw in the history of the tag titles. In 2005 he went to the finals of the inaugural New Japan Cup where he was defeated by Hiroshi Tanahashi. In 2009 he came into Dominion as the reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion only to lose to- you guessed it- Hiroshi Tanahashi again. In 2013 he challenged Rob Conway (yes, the “Just look at me” guy) for the NWA World Heavyweight Title at Dominion, but once again came up short. And finally, in 2017 he challenged for that most prestigious New Japan title of all- the NEVER Openweight 6-Man titles- alongside Hiroshi Tanahashi (if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em I guess) and Ryusuke Taguchi, only to come up short yet again against LIJ. Yeah, so I guess his history in Osaka is mostly him losing, so it’d make sense if he goes out on his back here. Two days after this show he’ll be stopping by All Japan’s Korakuen Hall event for a little goodbye match there (teaming with Jun Akiyama as well as NJPW alums Yutaka Yoshie & Osamu Nishimura, with fellow NJPW alum Yoshitatsu on the other side), and then it’ll be time for the last four shows of his career (all at Korakuen as well) culminating with his retirement event on February 22nd. Godspeed, you giant boulder of a man. Rich may not miss you but I will!! Prediction: Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Toa Henare & Ryusuke Taguchi

Rich: I’ll give NJPW credit for trying to make the Nakanishi retirement tour important or noteworthy but it’s just not clicking. The audience is being polite but the buzz surrounding his retirement just isn’t there. Maybe it’s the timing coming so soon after Jushin Thunder Liger’s year-long march but something is missing. I feel like Takashi Iizuka’s final run had more behind it than Nakanishi’s… and what’s worse is Nakanishi IS a former IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Presumably, he SHOULD be getting a grand sendoff. This is billed as his last time in Osaka-jo Hall, which, okay, cool. As John pointed out above, it’s not as if Nakanishi had many positive memories here but again, whatever. Outside of Nakanishi, I will tell you to keep an eye on Toa Henare who is really starting to come into his own and has begun harnessing his character and size to its full potential. I have no idea what Henare’s best-case scenario is in this company but it’s looking like we may have an idea of that at some point in 2020.  Prediction: Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Toa Henare & Ryusuke Taguchi

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
Roppongi 3K © vs. El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru

John: As our own Joe Lanza noted in his profile on them in the VOW 2019 Year in Review e-book (available now, name your own price!), El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru are really the straw that stirs the drink in this junior tag team division. I sincerely think they may be one of the most underrated tag teams of all time: they just do not have bad 2 vs. 2 tags, they’re usually workhorses in the undercard multi-mans while others take a night off (and frankly, the fact that these two are such great wrestlers is a major reason why Suzukigun has much, much better undercard tags on average than the other major heel stable in this company, BULLET CLUB), and yet you’ll pretty much never hear their names brought up in any kind of “best tag team in the world” discussion. I’d rather watch them than virtually any other team in this company, and they’re better than a lot of other teams in other companies that get a lot more hype as well. Somehow when these two cheat it always comes off as fun and entertaining instead of groan-inducing (who can be mad at Uncle Nobu’s whiskey spit?!), probably because it’s often in the midst of a super-fast closing stretch that you just can’t take your eyes off of. Desperado and Kanemaru rule, and while I don’t expect them to take back the junior tag titles here I won’t be at all upset if they pull it off. On the other hand, I do think we’re finally in the midst of Roppongi 3K’s signature tag title reign, and I think they pick up what will amazingly just be their second successful defense (in their fourth reign!) of these titles. Prediction: Roppongi 3K

Rich: The Roppongi 3k cycle has begun again. Since returning to the company in late 2017, Roppongi 3k has had the same basic structure to their years: win tournament, win titles, lose titles in March, win tournament, regain titles, yadda yadda. Two straight years (2018 & 2019) followed the same basic path. The good news: they usually are involved in a title change either positively or negatively in March at NJPW’s Anniversary Show. Still, I can’t fight the feeling that Roppongi 3k may be on their last leg here. The staredown between Shingo Takagi and SHO after Shingo’s NEVER Openweight Championship win had to have meant something. I say it all the time but NJPW rarely if ever does something just do to it, there’s always meaning, there’s always foreshadowing. Was NJPW merely building for something years down the line or letting the fans know that SHO’s time is quickly approaching? I’m of the mindset that it’s now or never for both SHO and YOH. While they’ve only been a full-time NJPW team since late 2017, they’ve accomplished really everything you can in that time. They are four-time champions, multi-time winners of the Super Jr. Tag League, handfuls of Wrestle Kingdom showcases… there’s nothing left. The longer you wait to pull the trigger on their singles runs, the quicker the clock can run out. Neither are spring chickens so now may and really should be the time. Prediction: El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru


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Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, Juice Robinson & David Finlay vs. BULLET CLUB (Guerillas of Destiny, Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens)

John: This was supposed to be like the “here are the conquering heroes returning from a successful New Beginning in USA tour after missing the entire rest of the New Beginning Japan tour” match, but it didn’t quite work out that way. Despite being originally scheduled for it, Kota Ibushi missed the entire US tour because of a severe case of the flu that apparently even developed into something that messed with his stomach lining (it seriously sounded awful), and the rest of these guys are coming back from a tour that drew some really dire numbers across the American southeast. I hope that they’ve learned from some mistakes with that tour and will avoid these “split tours” in the future, because people don’t care how many singles matches you run on these shows vs. house shows in Japan. They just want to see the stars of NJPW, and that means Naito and Okada and Minoru Suzuki and Hiromu Takahashi and Will Ospreay and Zack Sabre Jr. and everyone else that was left behind. Anyway, it looks like Kota will be able to return from his illness on this show (you can see him doing flips on Twitter if you don’t believe me) so that’s great news. Less great news was that the Guerillas of Destiny won the IWGP Tag Team Titles right back from FinJuice in Atlanta, less than a month after they lost the belts. Are they transition champions to give us the Tanahashi/Ibushi Golden Aces tag title run that was teased back at New Year Dash (without having Tana and Ibushi beat another popular babyface team)? I’m gonna hope and pray that’s the case, and that we set it up with the babyfaces winning here. Worth keeping your eye on though: apparently there was some kind of tease of dissension between Juice and Finlay after they lost the tag belts…. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, Juice Robinson & David Finlay

Rich: Man how depressing is this match after the last few weeks? Kota Ibushi was hurt. Tanahashi did really nothing of note in America and FinJuice lost their titles. Hooray! The babyfaces will get their win back here but it’s hard to get super excited about this match on any level.  Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, Juice Robinson & David Finlay

Kazuchika Okada & Will Ospreay vs. Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi

John: This is a real tasty little tag match here huh? It’s four big stars meeting without obvious pin eaters to drag things down, a great transition before we get into the real top matches of the show. All four men are coming off a night in Sapporo last week where they tore the house down: I went ****¼ on Ospreay-ZSJ, which I thought blew away their G1 match from last year, and ****½ on Okada-Taichi, as Taichi got to prove he could hang with Okada and work a 30+ minute New Japan epic. Despite coming out on the losing end of their match in Sapporo, Taichi has been claiming that he’s not quite done with Okada yet, pointing out that they’re now 1-1 counting the singles victory of Taichi Ishikari over Young Lion Kazuchika Okada on April 12th, 2008 in the Hasuda Citizen Gymnasium. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see these two paired up again in the first round of the New Japan Cup next month. Meanwhile, after failing to defeat Zack Sabre Jr. for the British Heavyweight Title in Sapporo, Will Ospreay also proved he wasn’t done with his countryman just yet when he pinned Zack with the Stormbreaker to win the elimination match main event on Tuesday at Korakuen Hall. He challenged Zack to a rematch for the title which Revolution Pro quickly signed for their High Stakes event at York Hall in London on February 14th. So no matter what the result is of this tag team encounter, we know Zack and Ospreay will meet again just 5 days later. So what’s the result of this match then? Put me down for ZSJ paying Ospreay back for Korakuen with one of his signature roll-up pinfall wins, as he laughs at Will and proclaims that he yet again has no chance to win the British Heavyweight Title (and then I think probably loses the belt to him finally in London, but we’ll see!). Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi

Rich: John called it tasty, I’ll call it nifty! Fun match here with two New Beginning matchups squaring off again. There’s some added flair too since Will Ospreay pinned ZSJ in an elimination match building towards a match for RevPro on February 14. Look for the central focus of the match to be on the upcoming ZSJ/Ospreay match at RevPro while Taichi and Okada play out the strings of this tour. More than anything, though, this match features some of the best wrestlers in the world, oh, and Taichi is in it too! Okay, I’m kidding Taichi always steps up in big moments and he’s a more than worthy contributor to this match. Either way, a chance to see some of the best of the best ply their craft is enough for me. I’ll call for Will to get the pin on Taichi to continue building momentum towards February 14. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada & Will Ospreay

Jay White vs. SANADA

John: White and SANADA is exactly the kind of little mini non-title feud I had wished New Japan would do with their singles wrestlers more before last year, and it’s one of the more underrated improvements of the post-Elite booking that started in 2019. Simply put, we get a lot more non-title singles matches outside of the major tournaments now, and I think it makes these cards a lot better. This feud won’t be remembered as an all-time classic or anything, but it’s been solid enough, featuring both guys getting roll-up wins over one another in tags (White’s coming with the assistance of Gedo and a chair last week in Sapporo, SANADA’s coming clean back at New Year Dash) and now looking to settle the score here. There’s really no reason why either guy can’t win this which makes it a dangerous match to predict, but I think SANADA could use the win a little more and it would set up a scenario where LIJ sweeps their three matches and then celebrates with Naito at the end of the night, so let’s go with that. Prediction: SANADA

Rich: With nothing really on the line here you can go either way with this match. SANADA typically finds himself in a big spot each Spring so he’s definitely a probable winner but you can never, ever discount the human spoiler Jay White. What I’ll be watching for more than anything is how these guys work and how the match comes across to the audience watching at Osaka-jo Hall as well as those viewing on NJPW World. These are two of the more polarizing and discourse-generating wrestlers in the company now with ardent fans and critics on both ends of the spectrum. I’m somewhat in the middle. I think both are tremendous talents but have their DUD matches along the way. White matches either click with me on a MOTY-level or have me checking my watch, eye-rolling and taking to Twitter to complain. SANADA is really the same way, sometimes it just works with him and you see future Wrestle Kingdom main event and superstar. Other times, SANADA bores you to tears and you wonder if this guy is even worth the trouble. Given that these two guys will be in the ring together, in a big spot, at Osaka-jo Hall… man, who knows. This could be really, really great or really, really bad with almost no space in between. Prediction: SANADA

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship
Hiromu Takahashi © vs. Ryu Lee

John: Let’s do it folks- the entire history of Hiromu Takahashi/Kamitachi vs. Dragon/Ryu Lee. It all starts on October 17th, 2014 at Arena Mexico, as Lee defeats Kamitachi in CMLL. Kamitachi returns the favor on January 9th, Lee beats him again on March 13th, and Lee then takes his mask on March 20th. The series goes on for a while after that in CMLL in 2015, ending with a 7-3 edge for Lee by the end of the year. Then it moves over to NJPW in a very memorable match at Korakuen Hall for Fantasticamania, with Hiromu appearing in his CMLL character before actually returning from excursion (which pretty much never happens) to beat Lee for the CMLL World Lightweight Title. He loses it back to Lee two months later back in Mexico before their feud moves into a third promotion (and country!), as Lee defeats Kamitachi on September 30th, 2016 at ROH’s All Star Extravaganza VIII PPV. Finally Hiromu returns from excursion to NJPW under his real name a few months later at Power Struggle 2016, and they have their first meeting following his return for Hiromu’s new IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title on February 11th, 2017 at the New Beginning in Osaka, which Hiromu wins. Lee pays him back in the Best of the Super Juniors later that year in May, and beats him again in May 2018 in that tournament as well. Finally, in July 2018, the two meet for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title once again in San Francisco in a match that now lives in infamy, as Lee falls to Hiromu but breaks Hiromu’s neck with his signature phoenix-plex in the process, keeping Hiromu out of action for a year and a half.

So here we are again now. The series record stands at 12-6 for Dragon Lee overall, but 3-2 for Hiromu if you only count matches that took place in NJPW. Perhaps even more importantly for Lee, he’s 0-2 in IWGP Jr. Title challenges against Hiromu, including at this very show three years ago (albeit in the smaller building). Can Lee reverse that trend and become IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion for a second time? I doubt it given how hard they’re already teasing that Naito vs. Hiromu champion vs. champion main event for the Anniversary Show next month, but I suppose anything is possible. What I do know though is that these two will have yet another incredible match, and at one point Lee will get Hiromu up in that phoenix-plex position and our hearts will all rise up into our throats. That’s pro wrestling. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi

Rich: Most people reading this can agree that the FIGHT FOREVER chant stinks but in the now six-year feud between these two high-fliers, I truly do want them to fight forever. I want these two battling in some mid-card tag match on whatever Toru Yano Old Man Produce Show he runs in 2035, I want them to see each other across from the ring and I want them to run at one another and punch each other as hard as they can as many times as they can. I want these two to always hate one another. I want these two to always give the other the side eye. I want these guys to FIGHT FOREVER. In the days following the last singles match between these two, it looked like we may never see them battle again as Takahashi suffered a career-threatening neck injury. Thankfully, he’s back and looks 100% healthy. Now, there are a few ways to address this injury and their final match. You can build the entire match up to Dragon Lee attempting to hit Phoenix Plex but Hiromu avoids it and wins the match. You can also have Dragon Lee hit the Phoenix Plex (fingers crossed without breaking Takahashi’s neck this time!) and Takahashi kicks out of it to prove he’s healed up and that move won’t put him down again. You can also, and I’m really intrigued by this idea, have Lee hit the Phoenix Plex, pin Takahashi and win the title. This sets up some doubt and some questions about Takahashi’s health, gives Lee a killer move that’s over even more than it already was and builds to a rematch. My third option is a bold one but this is a company—particularly at these New Beginning shows—that isn’t afraid to shock you. Regardless of the outcome this will be a tremendous pro wrestling match and you owe it to yourself to watch as many of their prior matches as you can before you dive into this one. This is one of pro wrestling’s greatest feuds and the fact that it can continue now and for the future warms my heart. Prediction: Ryu Lee




IWGP US Heavyweight Championship
Jon Moxley © vs. Minoru Suzuki

John: I’ve talked in many of these previews before about what a bizarre title this US Heavyweight Championship has been since pretty much its inception- a title that seems to exist only for the non-Japanese foreigners to fight over, that no Japanese wrestlers ever show any interest in, and that often features matches that struggle for crowd heat. Attaching Jon Moxley to the belt was on one hand pretty smart, since at least he’s a foreigner who really comes off like a gigantic star, but on the other hand you can’t even use him on the US shows thanks to his AEW contract so that takes one of the main purposes of this belt off the table as well. But here we are with this strange little title getting ready to semi-main event a show at Osaka Jo Hall in front of what should be a pretty sizable crowd (as I type this on Wednesday they’re not quite sold out but there’s only a few seats in the cheapest 2F category remaining, which I’m assuming will mean something like a 10k house at minimum), so perhaps New Japan had the last laugh here. Minoru Suzuki will be the first Japanese wrestler to ever challenge for this title in the country of Japan (YOSHI-HASHI challenged for it once but in Chicago on an ROH show), and he’ll do so in a match that feels red hot after these two nutbags spent the last month cursing, elbowing and kissing (!) each other. I can’t wait for this one. As much as I would like to see Suzuki become the King of the United States (and really how could he be anything but better at ruling this country than our current orange-tinted leader), sadly I think Jon Moxley walks out with the belt here. Prediction: Jon Moxley

Rich: The build to this match has fucking ruled and I can wait for these sleezeballs to start punching one another. This match will be as much about the faces made and the noises made as it will be about what happens in the ring. I don’t really care who wins, I don’t really care how they win, I’m just here for it. Prediction: Jon Moxley

IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Double Championship Match
Tetsuya Naito © vs. KENTA

John: Again, as mentioned NJPW is likely going to do a 10k house or even greater, for an event that normally maxes out at 5500 (thanks to the building size of EDION, NB in Osaka’s former home), and look who is in the main event. On January 27th, 2019, Hideo Itami was losing a four-way for the WWE Cruiserweight Title in a Royal Rumble pre-show match I would be surprised if more than like 5% of the people reading this actually watched (I know I sure as hell didn’t). Two days later he was losing to Akira Tozawa on 205 Live in his final WWE appearance, a match that may have legit been seen by zero of you unless the last remaining 205 viewer on earth Joe Lanza happens to read this. Barely over a year later, he’s headlining a show that’s likely going to do better attendance than some WWE PPVs (TLC did 8500 folks!). New Japan literally took WWE’s garbage, a wrestler who they decided mattered so little they gave him a voluntary release at a time where they weren’t giving anyone a voluntary release, and turned him into a bonafide main eventer. That’s why they’re a truly great wrestling company, and WWE is a content farm lucky to be riding the wave of bloated US TV contracts, masking just how awful they are at presenting anything resembling professional wrestling with ridiculous television money and literal blood money from Saudi Arabia.

Anyway! I think this match is going to surprise some people who might not be looking forward to it. Naito is going to sell his ass off for KENTA here, which we already have seen some of in the preview matches, and there will be some near-falls where you’re absolutely convinced that they’re actually doing this title change. Osaka has traditionally not been a very nice place for Tetsuya Naito to enter as defending champion: he lost the NEVER Openweight Title to Tomohiro Ishii at the New Beginning in 2014, the IWGP Heavyweight Title to Kazuchika Okada in this very building at Dominion 2016, and the Intercontinental Title at Dominion in back-to-back years, to Hiroshi Tanahashi in 2017 and Chris Jericho in 2018 (he did retain the NEVER against Masato Tanaka in 2013 and the IC against Jay Lethal and Michael Elgin in 2016 and 2017 though). So that’s three straight title matches at Osaka Jo Hall where Naito was the defending champion, and three straight times he lost his title. Will he break his streak here by defeating KENTA, or will he lose the IWGP Heavyweight AND Intercontinental Titles in Osaka Jo Hall yet again, this time in one single night? I know some of you are rooting for KENTA here (and frankly you should be ashamed of yourselves) but I’m gonna have to inject you with a little dose of reality: Tetsuya Naito is walking into Osaka Jo Hall with both belts, and he’s walking out of Osaka Jo Hall with those same titles. Suck it nerds. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

Rich: Thank god they are finally getting those belts of Tetsuya Naito. Am I right? So earlier in my Takahashi/Lee preview I said NJPW gets bold and wild during the New Beginning tour. This is a bridge too far though, too wild, too bold. KENTA isn’t winning this match. Still, how he performs here and the way he’s presented will go a long way in establishing him as a top heel in NJPW for 2020 and moving forward. If KENTA can generate sizable heat in this match and if he can put together a NJPW main event worthy match against Naito, NJPW will have successfully navigated a shaky start to his tenure into yet another star at their disposal. Given where KENTA was in his final NOAH days and good god where he was during his final year(s) in WWE, the fact that he’s not only a top heel in NJPW but now a proven business success: I mean, what more can you say? Tremendous work by NJPW, Gedo and KENTA himself to so quickly and easily transform and resurrect his career. There will be a few heart-stopping spots where you think HOLY SHIT KENTA IS GOING TO DO IT!!!! but Naito is winning here and that’s the right move for everybody involved. The build has been fantastic and the show looks like another tremendous business success. Call it luck if you want but there’s a reason everything NJPW touches has turned to gold lately. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito