JANUARY 25, 2021

Watch: NJPW World (JPN) / Watch: NJPW World (ENG)

We are firmly in the middle of the 15-date, four-section New Beginning Tour, and things at the top of the card are finally starting to feel resonant. After a lot of sow-to-show shuffling, the main event scene of this run has been given a firm shot in the arm with the excellent 30-minute draw in the main event of this show. It was a critical decision and hopefully pays off.

A measure of how it pays off will obviously be the upcoming New Beginning in Nagoya show, but also the string of Korakuen Hall shows between the Nagoya and Hiroshima events. After the set of Korakuen Hall shows that initiated this tour, I examined the peculiarly low attendance numbers. After a near full house of 694 on Night 1, the figures dropped to a disturbingly low 396 on Night 2, before rising back to 470 on Night 3. Both were the lowest of the COVID era. On the return to Korakuen for this two-night stand, the attendance figures were 471 on Night 6 and 416 here on Night 7.

This is an open issue, and one that I will return to at the end of either the Castle Attack tour. Determining the strength of factors is an evolving process. There’s time to digest and ruminate; there are a lot of Korakuen Hall dates left, a total of ten between January 25 and February 25. The booking of the cards was the major focus of my column, for sure. The easiest answer would be COVID restrictions and, particularly, the Tokyo State of Emergency, but it’s a bit too early to decipher its role. Currently, its primacy is not logically supported by the evidence. Consider:

  • Night 1 of the tour at Korakuen, in contrasts to Nights 2 and 3, drew a 99.7% capacity house, ten days into the SOE
  • Other companies drew well at Korakuen.
    • Stardom drew 713 on January 17
    • All-Japan drew 667 on January 24, the same day New Japan drew 471. Obviously, this was a much more important card, with a Triple Crown defense. The number stands.
  • New Japan drew big at a different venue in the same city, under the same SOE: 1,325 to Ota City Gymnasium on January 23.

This absolutely could change as the numerous Korakuen’s commence and provide more attendance data. The two attendances of 470 stands out to me; has New Japan perhaps quietly reverted to the July cap of 482 in response to the SOE? If so, why did they wait until Night 2 and not start with Night 1? There might be mechanisms in place right publicly declared, and we are trying to uncover that.

A point of clarification, though: this is not an attempt to illuminate anything on the drawing power of New Japan.  This is simply an examination of a curious stretch where one company is practically in a de-facto residency at one venue. I don’t care either way, I’d analyze the numbers no matter what they were.

But forget about balderdash numbers. This show was a great success: all programs were advanced, and the top three were bolstered in a big way. By utilizing some infrequently used finishes, it feels like some vitality was finally injected into the exceedingly sporting politeness at the top of the card.

First things first, we see our first Despy bear at the 7:30 mark, during Bullet Club’s entrance.

Yota Tsuji, Tiger Mask, Yuji Nagata, and Togi Makabe def. Bullet Club (Jado, Gedo, El Phantasmo, and Taiji Ishimori)

Life is a relentless series of compromises to a labyrinthine matrix of social contracts, with your ethics, essence and happiness the currency in this wretched, corrosive transactional decay.

And so, while this card is blessed with the generational dream team of Tanahashi-Ibushi-SHO in the main event, it also substitutes an El Phantasmo-led Bullet Club for Suzuki-gun in the opener. Night 6’s opening match was a tremendous bit of Heel Academia, as my Road To Warriors partner Neil David elucidated in his review. Suzuki-gun, and El Desperado in particular, demand a set of clearly delineated rules, guidelines, and legislated restrictions. Their wrestling philosophy is contingent on this. When Desperado pokes someone in the eye, his infectiously delighted laughter is indicative of one precept: he does not cheat for the sake of an observer, he cheats for himself.

El Phantasmo, however, is a quantum professional wrestling dilemma: as a character, he is nothing without an observer. El Phantasmo cheats solely because he is being observed. His demonstrative, satirical heel persona is inescapable. It overwhelms a match and poisons his partners. Taiji Ishimori , after a wonderful 2020 in which he refined a beguilingly candid scamp champion character, has lunged headfirst into the cartoonish buffoonery. The reason ELP is so divisive is because you cannot fragmentize your enjoyment of him. You cannot pick and choose aspects of his identity or tactics; you either accept or reject El Phantasmo on a fundamental level. It’s a wholesale exchange of embrace or repudiation. And one facet might change your perception entirely, in either direction; I, for one, abhorred ELP until the loaded boot gimmick. That spice changed the flavor of ELP for me entirely. Sure, Gedo probably should never been introduced to Territory Stuff, but he is recycling the good ideas, too. As many have noted, this will be the throughline of New Japan’s Junior heavyweight division in 2021.

There wasn’t much to this one. The match on the 24th had elements that this one lacked severely. For one, the turbulence Yuya Uemura exhibited when confronted with Minoru Suzuki, which was that match’s connective tissue. This turbulence had been building for months, as Uemura has publicly called out Suzuki no less than a dozen times. There was the weight of personal history behind the chaos on the 24th; there was nothing of the sort in this match. No history and superficial chaos.

As for Togi Makabe… he is an apostate to sweets and spent a total of 80 seconds in the match. And not like, he was in for 80 seconds but did other stuff as a non-legal competitor. No, he was the legal man for 80 seconds and then he just hovered on the floor, resting against the apron, existing in the purest, technical sense: occupying a particular fabric of space-time for a brief period. Togi Makabe’s 2021 looks like this, so far: 80 seconds in this match, three minutes in the January 24th match, and four minutes in the Wrestle Kingdom Rambo. In those 8.5 minutes, the closest thing to a bump was when he executed a Northern Lights suplex on Suzuki.

This one ended when Nagata forced a submission by Gedo, as a vainglorious ELP, who had decided to switch to commentary during the match, assured himself that Gedo would make it to the ropes only to see Gedo tap almost instantly after he said it. Of note: Tsuji hit a absolutely magnificent spear on Gedo near the end. Just fully parallel to the mat, full extension, and at least 4-5 feet of flight. Just spectacular. ***

The Empire (Wil Ospreay and Great-O-Khan) vs. Tencozy (Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan) – No Contest

As recently as December 22, 2020, a mere month ago, Hiroyoshi Tenzan was joking with Ryusuke Taguchi in backstage comments about how he is the greatest diva in New Japan. He is now in the hottest, best-constructed program in the company, indisputably.

The escalation of this feud has been captivating. It’s simple and the emotions are candidly uncomplicated. The Empire, filled to the brim with free floating hostility after their Wrestle Kingdom’s failures, arbitrarily decided to nearly end Tencozy’s careers on January 6th. Tencozy returned in full on the 23rd, where they exacted revenge by absolutely fucking up O-Khan’s back. On the 24th, The United Empire stormed to the ring during their entrance, Ospreay fury-focused and bereft of his usual bravado while O-Khan was completely unadorned of his ring attire, just all business. They did not wait for Tencozy to reach the ring; they pounced the second Tenzan and Kojima emerged, generating a wild brawl that ended in a rare no-contest… and an errant chair thrown by Ospreay that landed on the one place in all of Korakuen Hall guaranteed not to do any damage: Tenzan’s milk bucket head.

The United Empire once again came out from the back with white-knuckled animus. This time, Tencozy came to the ring with chairs already in hand. Once again, referee Kenta Sato took the brunt of the acrimony. Tenzan tossed him down during Tencozy’s entrance, then O-Khan tossed him into the barricade, then Ospreay tossed him out of the ring, and then, finally, Tenzan tossed him down again. That elicited another no-contest decision. Ospreay then challenged Kojima to a no-DQ match on the 30th, to which Kojima consented.

There is a reason this totally rules: there’s a wonderful amount of fighting fire with fire in New Japan right now. Tencozy are defiantly prideful veterans who do not give a fuck. If the United Empire wants to play dirty, they are happy to engage. If the United Empire want to incite a riotous brawl, they are eager to accept the invitation. Neither side is highfalutin here, either. The heels are not pompously amused, or playing mind games, or whatever the fuck people say to sublimate their terrible booking and character work. Likewise, the faces are not impotently aggrieved, or whiny, or impossibly stupid and lacking awareness. All four of these men are incensed, consumed by a bestial, bellicose wrath. Each part of the story logically extends from the previous.


And for the record, Satoshi Kojima is the leader in the clubhouse for Best on Interviews. His irate shouting is fascinating, but it’s not just for shouting’s sake. There is mesmerizing design to it. His screams are punctuations, adroitly positioned out with the start-stop dynamics of a young, agitated Charles Thompson. Kojima’s lines are clear and impactful in their simplicity: “This is the dirtiest fight I’ve had in my 30 years in this business.” Anyone could scream this line. But this is Satoshi Kojima screaming it. It has resonance. It is significant.

This is supposed to be the perfunctory rehabilitation of a new unit. Right now, it is the best thing in any major company. As a two-minute no contest, there’s a ceiling on how high I can go as far as a rating. And I’m pushing up against that ceiling. ***3/4 

CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto, and Kazuchika Okada) def. Bullet Club (Dick Togo, Yujiro Takahashi, and EVIL)

Kazuchika Okada is an odd duck. Tetsuya Naito is attracting a lot of attention for his madcap capers and double-boke manzai routine with Hiromu Takahashi, but Okada is an odd duck. Two years ago, his unit started doing Sushi Zanmai poses in all their multi-man matches, a prelude to the infamous balloon phase of Okada’s mental maturation/deterioration.

Okada has returned to the shorts and his unit has adopted an even stranger, even more ludicrous routine. It happens thusly: once having cleared the ring of all of their opponents but one, they lift their remaining opponent up, surround him on all sides, and reign farcical punches down on the opponent’s back with both fists in comical abundance. By the end, Okada somehow turns this into a air drumming session. That’s the best way to describe this amusing façade, which happens 50 seconds into this video:

In this variation, Okada was unsatisfied with the first session, so he requests a retake, which involved an abundance of high-speed thigh slapping. We’ve all wanted to slap Okada’s things with something, I’m glad Okada is living our dream. He is a ridiculous person. The greatest wrestler of this generation is such a fucking goof. This is the guy that would occupy his brain all day with trying to figure out how to steal and wear Nick Jackson’s pants, and then go out and have matches that literally changed the shape of the business. And he probably walked out of the arena thinking about how great it was that he ribbed Nick Jackson for ths 75th straight time.

There is nothing to this match beyond typical, well-structured CHAOS six-man tag nourishment. They changed up the formula a bit, though. Okada simply took everyone out at the end and then Ishii brainbustered the panacea-for-all-heat Yujiro. After the match, EVIL and crew simply left. This feud, one where both sides have consented to a match, remains in perdition. ***1/4

Los Ingobernables De Japon (BUSHI and Tetsuya Naito) def. Master Wato and Tomoaki Honma

There’s a Phillip Larkin poem which concludes:

…we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind

While there is still time.

I have taken the reverse track with Master Wato. My reviews are often sardonic and flippantly cruel towards Wato; this is because I have to get the jokes in now while Wato is still clumsy. The best part of the previous night’s main event was the exchanges between Wato and BUSHI. They had one strike exchange which was completely and thoroughly fucking awesome. This is weird, because BUSHI fucking sucks. This and so many other little things strongly suggest that Wato will put it together.

Unfortunately, Wato is a Janus-like creature; the little things suggest future proficiency, but he so whiffs on the little things so often. He and BUSHI were also not given nearly as much in this match, despite it only being a straight two-on-two tag. The best part of this match, though, was the confrontation between Wato and BUSHI after the match. Wato, infuriated by the disrespect shown towards Honma with the 25-count pinfall, went right after BUSHI with the fire we need from Wato. When I see Honma and Wato together, I hear Neil Young’s “Old Man” playing in my head. I wish Master Wato the Darryl Hannah of his generation.

This one was rough. The problem is Honma. Presumably, Honma eliminating Naito to win the Hontai vs. LIJ elimination match on the 23rd should have given this off-title feud a little vigor. And yet, the crowds are not buying it. Claps in this match started and pitifully dwindled. It also doesn’t help that Honma is incapable of twisting or turning his torso, adjusting his hips, or sitting up from a prone position. He is Mr. Potato Head in a deeper shade of orange.

Naito, who has spent the post-Wrestle Kingdom tour goofing off, pulled off some trademark 57 Club bumping illogic. At one point, Naito took a DDT from Honma on his face, hands down and fully protected. Then he took a regular, commonplace lariat and arbitrarily decided to fully flip, landing right on his fucking head in the process. Again, probably because the thought amused him.

Naito scored the pin with a terrible roll-up, worse than anything Wato has ever botched, and then held it for a full minute after the bell. This is funny because the way this supposed rivalry has progressed, and the way Naito has treated things, Honma should prevail in the end. Sometimes the logical solution is insane and should be ignored.  *** 

SHO, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Kota Ibushi vs. Hiromu Takahashi, Shingo Takagi, and SANADA – Time Limit Draw

Coming into this match, the three marquee programs for the New Beginning tour were under-defined and substantially underwhelming. They simply existed, a maelstrom of gentlemanly discourse and respectful palaver. This has a charm in comparison to the maligned 2020 main event scene, but at this point in the tour these match-ups desperately needed some animation. The highlight to this point was Shingo riffing on his “No Ace” joke in a backstage comment, itself a pale facsimile of his classic “Go To YOSHI-HASHI” routine.

This 30-minute time limit draw solved all these issues. The main events finally have mass.

The logical expectation would be a heavy focus on Shingo and Tanahashi, as this is the final Road To before their New Beginning in Nagoya headliner. The other matchups are less pressing, with a full week of Korakuen’s ahead to add bulk to them before the New Beginning in Hiroshima shows. There was quite a bit of emphasis on the NEVER Openwight matchup, certainly. One amusing moment saw Shingo taunt Tanahashi by attempting a Texas Cloverleaf. Tanahashi, incensed that Shingo was about to do a move that existed for decades before Tanahashi ever wrestled, stormed into the ring to break it up.

I was confused at one point, however, by the amount of interaction between the Hiroshima main events, Ibushi-SANADA and Hiromu-SHO. There were lengthy exchanges between these pairs, an abnormal amount of contact for matches so far away. This is especially true for Hiromu and SHO, who had a very long sequence before Shingo and Tanahashi took it home.

When it became apparent that they were building to a time limit draw, the conceit of the match came into focus: no one will take a fall, SHO will take a prolonged heat segment to stretch things out, every pairing will have a series of mini-matches to make up for lost time and the purposely uneventful stories, and all three programs are bolstered by the very protected finish. And believe me, this is a protected finish. How protected?

Here’s the venerable Chris Samsa:

Literally a once in a decade finish, this was a brilliant decision to give the main events some juice going into the final stages of the tour. I can see this going two ways once you realized the draw was coming: either you disconnected from the match, unable to buy into any of the near-finishes, or you got very excited at the idea of the draw. It ended with the sensational visual of all six men laying on the apron after the final bell, consumed by exhaustion and depleted by a full-time’s worth of exertion. It makes you want to exhume and review Titian and tie him to the chair until he painted what he saw:

The work in this match was terrific and, while carrying some slight monotony from previous Road To shows on this tour, was presented at a phenomenal pace. Ibushi and SANADA carried over the tendencies they started to play with on the first two shows on this run, noticeably different from their G1 Match with a crisper dynamics, otherworldly athleticism, and a much heavy dose of crowd acknowledgment. SHO and Hiromu hammered each other. SHO and Hiromu do a lot of stuff from the German suplex position, with what appears to be an inexhaustible supply of variants.

The match started and concluded with Shingo and Tanahashi, and was undergirded by extended by tremendous sequences by the other two pairings. The crowd was the hottest its been all tour and this heat was sustained nearly the entire match. Quite simply, everything came together and all objectives were met.

The match was followed by a surreal conversation between a seated Tanahashi and seated Shingo. Tanahashi’s euphonious tone is the perfect contrast to Shingo, who just forcefully ejects his words. The intently ambitious, razor-sharp populism of Tanahashi was hilariously juxtaposed by Shingo’s smoldering, stand-offish babble. At one point Shingo referred to Ibushi, who just brushed him off. Imagine Ibushi brushing off anyone. That is Shingo. I once again remind the readership of Shingo’s reputation: an unfathomably intense lunatic that never stops talking:

Ibushi: And the guy is just so fired up, so… animated all the time. It’s scary, the level he goes at.

Naito: I hate that guy, you know? Constantly talking. All the goddamn time. Talking to himself in the locker room, talking to himself on the road. He drives me crazy. But he’s an awesome wrestler.

Also, I don’t know how I never noticed this but Shingo seemingly limps after every match, no matter if his leg was touched out not. It kinda rules This match definitely ruled. ****1/4


A significant show that used multiple infrequently used finishes, in the process revitalizing the three New Beginning tour main events. The Tencozy vs. United Empire feud continues to escalate, each step amplifying the best elements and totally different from the rest of the card. The draw is a breeze to watch and considerably strengthened the aimless main events. Highly recommended.