New Japan Pro Wrestling
The New Beginning in Nagoya
January 30, 2021
Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium
Nagoya, Aichi, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Before I dive into the matches, I want to make a quick note on the English Commentary team. If you haven’t been keeping up with the Road To events, El Phantasmo has been making a couple of appearances on English commentary with Kevin Kelly. As far as I know, this was the first time he’s been at the commentary desk for an entire show, and I have to say, he’s been a pretty entertaining commentator! He plays the role of the heel commentator very well, and is a fun partner alongside Kevin Kelly.

CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada & Toru Yano) def. BULLET CLUB (EVIL & Yujiro Takahashi with Dick Togo)

Not only have we been getting shorter cards on this particular tour, but we’re also getting some shows that have reduced crews (on top of the reduced crews we already had) due to the ongoing COVID restrictions. This show kicked off with the only match to feature wrestlers from CHAOS and BULLET CLUB, as Kazuchika Okada and Toru Yano picked up a win over EVIL and Yujiro Takahashi. While this was easily the worst match on the entire card, it wasn’t horrible by any means. It was just your standard, early-in-the-card tag team affair featuring some guys who really weren’t working that hard. Of course, we’re in the middle of the build towards a bout between EVIL and Okada, so they had a couple of interactions here. The team from BULLET CLUB worked over Okada until Yano tagged in, and that’s when the real shenanigans began. Yano ultimately won the bout for his team with a roll up on Yujiro following a low blow and a collision with Dick Togo. Nothing much else to say about this one. It was…..a match. **1/4

Kota Ibushi, SHO, Master Wato, & Tomoaki Honma def. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA, & Tetsuya Naito)

The Road To New Beginning events have given us various combinations of Hontai vs. LIJ, and this was just the latest combination. This wasn’t nearly as good as some of the matches between Hontai and LIJ that we saw on the Korakuen Hall events, but it was still a relatively solid bout from start to finish. It didn’t go overly long, and we got further build for all the various matchups that we’re getting later on in the tour. LIJ worked over Honma in the early going, but Honma was able to fight back and make the tag to Ibushi. From there, the pace started to pick up, and we got some more action down the stretch. In the end, SHO got the win for his team after hitting BUSHI with the Shock Arrow. Another multi-person tag team match that served its purpose well. ***

The Great O-Khan def. Hiroyoshi Tenzan

Now we’re getting into the business end of the card. Of course, this grudge match has the stipulation that the loser will no longer be able to use the Mongolian Chop. The term “grudge match” is very appropriate in this case, and we saw things get even more heated between The United Empire and TenKoji on the Road To events, with various DQ’s and No Contests. That aspect of the feud carried over in this match, as The Great O-Khan charged at Tenzan while he was making his entrance. Once they did get into the ring, we got the first of many Mongolian Chops exchanged between the two. I just loved that these two were just spamming that move at various points. It was pretty cool!

This was by no means a great match, but it ended up being pretty good by the time it reached its conclusion. We all know the current limitations of Tenzan at this late stage of his career (I still fear at times that his ankles are going to snap in half). However, over the last few years, we tend to get one or two occasions where Tenzan puts forth a really good performance, and this was certainly one of those occasions. Tenzan busted out some of the top moves in his arsenal, from the second rope Mongolian Chop, to the Anaconda Vice, to even an attempted Moonsault that O-Khan managed to avoid. Meanwhile, O-Khan took the fight to Tenzan at various points. He spent the first portion of the bout using a variety of submissions to work over the head and neck of Tenzan. At one point, O-Khan connected with The Stroke (wouldn’t be the last shoutout of sorts to Jeff Jarrett on this show), and later on, he managed to hit Tenzan with his own version of the Tenzan Tombstone Driver. This led to an emphatic kickout from Tenzan, but O-Khan hit The Eliminator shortly thereafter to secure the win. An entertaining match to end this portion of the TenKoji/United Empire feud, and a fun way to transition a famous move from a legend to a rising star. We didn’t know it at the time, but this win for O-Khan would also help set up the angle that closed the show. ***1/2

No DQ Match
Will Ospreay def. Satoshi Kojima

I was super excited to see this match between Satoshi Kojima and Will Ospreay when it was originally announced, but when this got turned into a No DQ Match following the escalation of the TenKoji/United Empire feud on the Road To New Beginning events, I got even more excited. When the dust settled, these two managed to have an excellent contest that served as a great conclusion (I’m guessing it’s the conclusion, anyway) to this larger feud between TenKoji and The United Empire

Ospreay came out to the ring with a guitar and a trash can filled with trash can lids and cookie sheets. It didn’t take long for these two to start brawling on the floor, and it didn’t take long for some of these weapons to get used. What made this match so great is that it wasn’t just all about the plunder. Yes, the plunder was a big part of the bout, but it didn’t totally consume it, or turn into a senseless brawl that was just the two of them hitting each other with weapons back and forth. They did a very nice job incorporating the various weapons involved into their usual wrestling offense, and the big spots they did build to were excellent.

Some of those spots included Kojima smashing the previously-mentioned guitar over the head of Ospreay (another unintentional shoutout to Jeff Jarrett), Ospreay powerbombing Kojima through a table set up in the corner, Kojima sending Ospreay crashing through a ladder bridge on the floor after knocking off one of the corners with a lariat, and Kojima hitting a big brainbuster onto a pile of chairs in the center of the ring. Both guys really worked hard here, and Kojima proved once again that he can still go with the best that New Japan has to offer. He even managed to counter an OsCutter attempt by swatting Ospreay out of the air with a big lariat. Despite his best efforts, Kojima ultimately came up short, as Ospreay managed to put away Kojima with two Hidden Blades (one of them with a chair) and the Stormbreaker. An awesome match from start to finish. Even though it probably won’t come close to being a serious MOTYC, it will go down as one of my favorite matches of 2021 for sure. A good bounce back win for Ospreay after coming up short at Wrestle Kingdom. ****1/2

NEVER Openweight Title
Hiroshi Tanahashi def. Shingo Takagi (c)

We got a great line from El Phantasmo at the start of this match, as he said Hiroshi Tanahashi has a “Canadian Soccer Mom” haircut, while Shingo Takagi had a “Deep South Wal-Mart Mom” haircut. While Satoshi Kojima vs. Will Ospreay was definitely one of the top matches that I was looking forward to on this tour, this bout between Shingo and Tanahashi was definitely my most anticipated match. A first-time ever singles clash, in the main event slot, with Shingo’s NEVER Openweight Title on the line. This had all the makings of an instant classic, and when the dust settled, it delivered in a huge way.

This was your classic New Japan main event, in that thing started off on the slower side, but then things gradually built and built until we got to an incredible second half and an amazing closing stretch. Early on, Tanahashi went after the legs of Shingo, and spent a decent chunk of the match working them over, primarily with Dragon Screws. While Shingo would fight back and hit some big moves in response (a DDT on the floor, his falling backwards elbow off the top rope), he wasn’t able to fend off Tanahashi as he continued to target the leg. Tanahashi successfully connected with his High Fly Flow from the top rope to the floor (you know it’s a big match when he busts that one out), but not long after that, Shingo managed to chop block Tanahashi’s leg, and that’s when the pace started to pick up.

Tanahashi was able to survive a big powerbomb and a half crab from Shingo, and connected with a Dragon Screw from the second rope that set up a long Cloverleaf spot. This set up a successful High Fly Flow to the back of Shingo, but he went for a second one, and Shingo managed to roll out of the way. Then we got into the real business end of the match, as the two of them started to trade big moves and hard strike exchanges back and forth. One of the biggest highlights during this closing stretch was a Made In Japan from Shingo that dropped Tanahashi right on his head, which looked absolutely brutal. Tanahashi managed to recover, however, and took the fight to Shingo (who was doing a great job selling the leg that Tanahashi worked over earlier). After a big Pumping Bomber and a stiff strike exchange, Shingo went for Last Of The Dragon, but Tanahashi countered with a Slingblade, and that was the beginning of the end for Shingo. One Dragon Suplex and one High Fly Flow later, and Hiroshi Tanahashi captured the NEVER Openweight Title for the very first time.

The fact that two of the best wrestlers on the planet had an outstanding main event title match should come as a shock to absolutely nobody. It went just over thirty-five minutes (the longest match in the history of the NEVER Openweight Title), but it never dragged at any point. They managed to keep the match engaging through the first half, and then once they got to that closing stretch, they really knocked it out of the park. A true dream match in every sense of the word, and it definitely delivered. Go out of your way to see this one. *****

Afterward, we went through the usual Hiroshi Tanahashi main event celebration (only this time using the NEVER Openweight Title as his guitar), but as he was delivering the final line of his usual victory speech, The Great O-Khan ran out and attacked him from behind. He hit Tanahashi with The Eliminator, and then took the mic. O-Khan said that he hadn’t forgotten about what happened at Wrestle Kingdom 15 (when he came up short against Tanahashi), and proclaimed that he was going to bring the NEVER Openweight Title to the United Empire. Interesting that they’re going straight back to Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. The Great O-Khan, but in terms of the result, it wouldn’t shock me if O-Khan wins the title (I can’t see him losing to Tanahashi twice in a row). If I had to guess, I’d say that this match is probably going to happen on one of the two Castle Attack shows in Osaka-Jo Hall, but we’ll see in a few weeks when the cards get revealed.

Final Thoughts

As a whole, this was a very strong showing from New Japan. The two tag matches to start the card were pretty much what you would expect (your typical New Japan lower card multi-person tags), but the quality of the show really hinged on the top three matches. Hiroyoshi Tenzan and The Great O-Khan had a really entertaining singles bout, and that was followed by two bouts that absolutely knocked it out of the park. Satoshi Kojima and Will Ospreay had an excellent No DQ Match, while Shingo Takagi and Hiroshi Tanahashi had a simply outstanding main event for the NEVER Openweight Title that will definitely be one of the early Match Of The Year contenders in 2021.