FEBRUARY 9, 2020

Watch: New Japan World

KENTA proves he’s back, Tetsuya Naito makes his first successful double title defense and Ryu Lee & Hiromu Takahashi attempt to kill one another again.

Tencozy (Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima), Yuji Nagata, and Manabu Nakanishi def. Taguchi Japan (Ryusuke Taguchi, Toa Henare, Tomoaki Honma, and Togi Makabe)

Our customary old dudes, young guys and hey, Togi Makabe is there too! Match. This was honestly the best Nakanishi has looked in months which isn’t saying much as each time he had to rise to his feet you could hear the noise of his bones cracking. 

Henare continued his hot 2020 and came firing out of the gates but fell to the back after the opening minutes. Otherwise, it was a nothing happening match that served as more of a backdrop for Nakanishi’s last show at Osaka-jo Hall. There was one real standout spot with all four of the old farts putting on their signature holds at the same time. I almost for a brief second thought this could be the finish but it wasn’t to be. The old dudes team did pick up the win when Kojima nearly took off Honma’s head with a lariat. Kojima rules so much. Nakanishi grabbed the mic after the match and told people to stick with him over these last few shows and he was left in the ring alone to bow to the crowd. **

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
Roppongi 3K (Sho and Yoh) (c) (with Rocky Romero) defeated Suzuki-gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru and El Desperado)

The structure of this match centered around SHO selling his knee including eating a chairshot early in the match. Like a pack of wolves smelling blood, Desperado and Kanemaru wouldn’t let SHO walk a few feet without dropkicking, chop blocking or locking SHO’s knee in a submission hold. Each small bit of Roppongi momentum was quickly cut off by a perfectly timed shot to SHO’s knee. 

In the final few minutes of the match, SHO finally worked through his knee injury and with enough momentum the duo hit their new Strong X finish to pick up the victory. This match wasn’t super dynamic or exciting but SHO did a tremendous job of selling his knee while Despy and Kanemaru were exceptional at knee-focused offense. ***

Desperado and Desperado had a slap fest staredown at the end of the match that felt like something more than just a random post-match encounter but we’ll see. After the Suzuki-gun duo was cleared from the ring, Ryusuke Taguchi walked in with a headband and a basketball. Like the time Taguchi tried very unsuccessfully to ride a bike, it was clear that Taguchi has never once in his life played or dribbled a basketball. 

Taguchi asked Rocky Romero to team with him as the Mega Coaches against… Roppongi 3k! Taguchi held his hands in a circle like a hoop and Rocky, who clearly has a good jumpshot, shot it and officially challenged Roppongi for the titles. 

Kota Ibushi and Taguchi Japan (Hiroshi Tanahashi, David Finlay, and Juice Robinson) defeated Bullet Club (Chase Owens, Yujiro Takahashi, Tanga Loa, and Tama Tonga)

Hiroshi Tanahashi is usually a man of exceptional hair but I don’t know what the fuck was going on today. Mr. Juicy put it well when he said: “Tanahashi looks like he wants to speak to your manager.” 

Chris Charlton about made me pass out when he said: “GOD wants to hold the titles through next year’s Tokyo Dome and break their curse of never winning at the Dome.” Please dear god no. 

The rest of the match felt ultimately worthless but the finish gave us some hope for the future. Tanahashi got the pinfall victory over Tama Tonga followed heavy tease with Ibushi fighting Tanga Loa after the pinfall. This immediately piqued my interest. Could we see Tanahashi and Ibushi step up to the plate and take on GOD soon? Let’s hope. 

I’ve long argued for stars without programs to be involved in the tag division ala the glory years of AJPW. It’s a great way to keep your stars busy and out of the spotlight for a bit, make your tag division an actual thing people care about and the best case scenario you can build the tag champions or the division into an actual draw that can headline shows. It seems like a no-brainer. Hopefully, we’re on that path with this tease here. **¾

Between these matches, NJPW announced that the G1 Climax would start in Osaka this September and also that they’d be returning to Madison Square Garden in August. Arguably the biggest news though is the return of NJPW to primetime Japanese television. This last note will be under-reported stateside but is a gigantic deal to NJPW’s domestic business.

Chaos (Will Ospreay and Kazuchika Okada) def. Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr. and Taichi)

Taichi and Okada were really just playing out the strings here as Okada already defeated Taichi and the story throughout this match was a lot of Taichi’s go-to tricks didn’t work. More of the focus both in the match and commentary was building towards the upcoming Ospreay vs. Sabre match in RevPro. The action was perfectly acceptable in this match but it was hard to care too much especially given what was in store for the rest of the night. Solid work but a match you’ll never think about again in your life. ***

Jay White def. SANADA

This was always going to be a polarizing match and thanks to my desire to stay off Twitter and avoid spoilers, I don’t know the consensus around this match. I’m guessing, and hear me out here, that fans of either Jay White, SANADA or general NJPW fans are going to say it was fun and good while people who dislike White, SANADA and NJPW will say it stunk and share GIFS to make sure you’re aware of how much they didn’t like it? Was I right?

Anyway here’s where I tell you I didn’t love it and then use a GIF at the end of the review. Look, I’m a hypocrite, okay?

These two men are so hit or miss with me and this was more miss than hit. The finish was hot and there was some back and forth throughout but I quickly get taken out of any match that features multiple interference spots. While I understand that’s White’s character and that he is doing well in the role designed, I don’t have to like and enjoy it.

After the third time we saw Gedo grab SANADA’s fee I kind of lost all patience here. Even a spot designed to get SANADA back on top saw SANADA drop Gedo on the top rope and kick the ropes into his nuts. Cool. The only problem is this was set up by White literally holding onto the referees head on the mat while SANADA and Gedo took a few minutes to get their thing going. It’s just hard to really for me to buy into or get excited about this type of stuff in NJPW. I just want guys to fight one another to find out who is the best. If this type of heel work is your jam, that’s great but I won’t even enjoy it. White ultimately finished SANADA off rather easily with a Blade Runner which not only set White up for March’s New Japan Cup but helped enforce the story of SANADA’s singles losing streak as Cold Skull hasn’t won a NJPW singles match in close to six months. **1/2

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Hiromu Takahashi (c) def. Ryu Lee

Now, this was fucking action. This is why I watch wrestling!

The bell rang and these two ran at one another trying to kill the other in the first seconds of the match. What followed was multiple german suplexes then Takahashi knocking Lee and himself down with a huge clothesline. What a start this was. In a nice touch, Hiromu was already grabbing at his neck which is the way to play up the previous match between the two where Hiromu was put on the shelf for over a year and a half.

Then, oh boy, then we got an overhand slap sequence that legitimately took up four or five full minutes. Some may say it was overkill but when we’re talking about two dynamos in a multi-year, multi-promotion feud and a feud where one of the participants nearly crippled the other? C’mon? How can you hate this?

During that overhead slap sequence, I started thinking to myself, “Oh, okay they are going to work this differently than they used to. Less high risk, more two men proving who the stronger and more resilient is. Hey, I like it!”

Then Ryu Lee did huricanrana to Hiromu on the apron followed that with a suicide dive to Takahashi who was sitting on the guardrail then Hiromu did a sunset bomb to send Lee to the floor.

So, yeah, we’re back to normal.

These guys have a death wish and maybe I’m a callous person who no feelings but I love it. Who am I to tell these guys who they should ply their craft? I won’t apologize for being entertained by these two maniacs trying to outdo themselves.

Lee teased the Phoenix Plex a few times which led to gasps from the crowd who clearly know the history and danger of that move. I was kind of surprised they never did it here as perhaps they are saving it for another day or they legit don’t want to risk it again with Hiromu. I’m not sure. I can’t imagine given the other stuff he did in this match that Hiromu or the company think that move is off-limits but it was definitely surprising to see it avoid on this night.

Eventually, Hiromu squirmed out of the Phoenix Plex, hit two Timb Bombs and secured the victory. A spectacular, go-out-of-your-way to watch this type match and yet another notch in each man’s belt as one of the greatest rivalries in wrestling today lives to see another chapter. ****1/2

IWGP United States Championship
Jon Moxley (c) def. Minoru Suzuki

One of my most anticipated matches in recent memory as the build has been simple: two badass men want to prove which is more badass. It’s the ultimate dish measuring pro wrestling contest and, god am I here for it. Mox comes to the ring with an eyepatch and camo pants giving me heavy Solid Snake vibes. Suzuki presents Moxley with a chair while holding one of his own and my god what better way could you start this match? Hook this my veins, god damn.

We had table spots, a teased broken arm for Moxley, strike exchanges, chairshots to the head and just two men being all-around badasses. The visuals were incredible as Suzuki would sell each big move he took with a wider and wider smile as the match went on.

Moxley spent a majority of the match yelling “C’mon mother fucker!” “I don’t give a fuck!” “You’ll have to kill me, mother fucker!” Wrestling is the best.

Moxley oozed machismo throughout the match and was such an overwhelming badass motherfucker that again it’s impossible to believe he was being used as a rodeo clown who sprayed mustard at people. Mercifully, Moxley ended the match with Death Rider and picked up the victory. ****

Immediately after the match, Zack Sabre Jr ran in and choked Moxley out teasing a future match between the two. Is ZSJ long for the RevPro British Championship or are we looking at the possibility of Sabre winning both belts?

IWGP Heavyweight Championship and the IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Tetsuya Naito (c) defeated KENTA

Just under a year ago, KENTA, previously WWE employee performing under the name Hideo Itami, officially announced his release from the company:

After five years of injuries, questions about his toughness and durability, uneven and lackluster pushes, KENTA had finally returned. But, what KENTA were we going to see? After five years away from Japan, it was reasonable to expect a very different KENTA. The Pro Wrestling NOAH veteran finally made his debut with NJPW in the summer and the results were, mixed. While KENTA was no longer the jump off the page dynamic worker he had been in the decade prior to his exit to WWE, he was undeniably charismatic. There was only one problem: the NJPW-loyal fanbase didn’t take to KENTA. Not only was he was longtime NOAH wrestler, but he had also left everyone in the dust to pursue his dream of wrestling in WWE. Initially pegged as a returning hero babyface, KENTA turned his back on NJPW and longtime friend Katsuyori Shibata attacking him and joining the villainous BULLET CLUB stable.

Since that point, KENTA has arguably been one of NJPW’s biggest stars. Just a year after his career seemed to be at its lowest point, it’s arguably at its highest tonight as KENTA helped sell-out Osaka-jo Hall with a chance at winning both the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championship.

For a longtime KENTA fan like myself, this is such a proud moment. After years of questioning whether one of our favorites was merely a big fish in a small pond or perhaps not the superstar we thought he was: he proved it on this night. No matter what the future holds for KENTA, you can never take this moment and this returns away from him.

But that’s not why you called… let’s talk about this match.

The beginning of the match saw Red Shoes tossing ALL members of KENTA’s BULLET CLUB entourage out of the ring. This was a great way to avoid any of the bullshit pitfalls we saw in White vs. SANADA and let us know we were going to get a war between these two and these two only. KENTA began the match attempting to avoid Naito and pick his spots while Naito, still not a babyface himself, found each and every opportunity to deal big damage to KENTA even if it required stiff kicks, spit and other heel tactics. The mostly pro-Naito crowd even jeered their hero a few times.

KENTA was keen to prove that indeed, he was the biggest dickhead as he used any free time in this match to talk shit to his opponent and rile up the crowd.

Unfortunately, a lot of my enjoyment for the early part of the match was thrown out when Red Shoes was taken out giving Switchblade Jay White an opportunity to run in and tease a Blade Runner on Naito. Naito’s LIJ stablemate BUSHI ran in to distract Jay White but ate a Blade Runner for his troubles. Hiromu Takahashi quickly followed (big ups to LIJ for actually helping their leader this time!) and sent White out of the ring to get things back to one on one.

Business really picked up after KENTA sent Naito into an exposed turnbuckle busting Naito wide open. This company has smartly limited blood over the years and it makes moments these that much more poignant and memorable. Naito was gushing blood here and I’m not sure if he was opened hard way to needs some tips on how to blade but holy shit you may want to skip this portion of the match if you’re squeamish. KENTA seemed right on the cusp of victory but Naito prevailed and hit Destino to get the win and retain both belts.

I didn’t love every second of this match but the good far outweighed the bad. This was a god damn war between two titans on top of their game. KENTA is fully back and he will live to fight another day. Naito earned the win and was left a bloody and battered mess. This was great. ****1/2

After the match, as correctly predicted by John Carroll in our website preview, Hiromu Takahashi came down to challenge the bloody Naito for NJPW’s upcoming Anniversary Show. Naito accepted and, after being denied it at Wrestle Kingdom by KENTA, finally got to do his big title celebration.

Final Thoughts

NJPW New Beginning in Osaka’s lofty expectations were largely met as Moxley/Suzuki, Lee/Takahashi and Naito/KENTA all delivered big.