February 2, 2021

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

This is night 11 of the New Beginning tour, the campaign’s tenth Road To show and the seventh show at Korakuen Hall. In my review from the February 1 show, I noted that the numbers jumped up a bit, to 557. This is the second-highest attendance figure from the already voluminous amount of Korakuen’s on this tour. I wondered whether the return of Jay White would be enough of a boost to keep the numbers up, and while I cannot confirm that Jay White was the cause, the number did rise, to 582.

It’s becoming more apparent that while the State of Emergency might indeed be affecting the lowered numbers, people will venture out to shows they believe are worth evading the requests of the government. This happened in Tokyo itself at Ota Gym, it happened on Night 1 of this tour at Korakuen, it’s happening outside of Tokyo (where the State of Emergency extends). New Japan has complied with requested conditions by holding earlier start-times with fewer matches per show. Thus, a more monotonous schedule, even by Road To standards. They’ve managed to put heat on some of the matches… but at odd times. It’s not clear they’ve fomented intrigue in the most important matches on the tour, the culminating main events in Hiroshima.

On January 25, the final broadcast show before the New Beginning in Nagoya card, New Japan presented an excellent 30-minute draw, culminating with a seated conversation between the demure Hiroshi Tanahashi and the perpetually sweltering Shingo Takagi. It added some juice to a strange program, one framed as a legendary challenger disinterested in the title and opponent before him. An alternative route they could have taken: it’s Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shingo fucking Takagi. It was a first-time singles between the two and something of a dream match. New Japan went with the draw to close out the second leg of the tour, and it provided some luster to that match’s underwhelming build. The show did well.

In these two shows, New Japan relied on their old New Beginning tour standby: the elimination match. These matches are always crowd-pleasers and nearly failproof ways to animate a program. On February 1, the double-tag rivalry between Suzuki-gun and Bullet Club was given a healthy dose of steam. The junior tag title feud between former champions El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru and current champs Taiji Ishimori and El Phantasmo was given extended life due to some wild brawling, including Despy and Ishimori fighting down a stairwell, eye-raking each other the whole way. The semi-main event of the February 10th New Beginning in Hiroshima, Dangerous Tekkers vs. Guerrillas of Destiny, was reanimated; it was the focus of the match,  as G.O.D. had been on a brief hiatus due to a return to the United States and quarantine upon return.

This night’s elimination tag seemed frivolous and oddly placed when the schedule was released, as CHAOS vs. Bullet Club had only one defined rivalry and zero upcoming matches on the books. That certainly changed after February 1st.  This elimination tag effectively galvanized the EVIL-Okada feud with an intense pull-apart (even if the eliminations were suspect), and, more importantly, provided a vigorous foundation for the emerging program between Tomohiro Ishii and the returning Jay White, fresh off his stint in Florida driving to billionaire moguls houses and waving seven-year contracts in their puffy, compromising faces. The end result was a semi-main event NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Championship match on the February 11th New Beginning show.

That match solves one problem the February 11 show had. Until this show and White’s provocation, the 2/11 event was a one-match show: a main event, Kota Ibushi vs. SANADA for the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships, and absolutely nothing else bearing even a fiber of consequence. Now, Ibushi and SANADA have some support.

Another problem persists, though, and it is much more significant: that 2/11 main event is cold as fuck. Two hot guys, one cold as fuck match. Right now, the hottest thing related to this match is Ibushi being a demonstratively clueless nuisance in backstage comments to SHO and Hiromu Takahashi, who simply want to talk about their dreams and stargaze lying in a field. Ibushi is some kind of Sophist interrupting this Socrates-Plato discourse, but consider this: SHO and Hiromu’s match, which will main event the February 10 show, is also quite frosty right now. The only thing either of these matches have going for them is this nightly vaudevillian farce! And SANADA isn’t even there.

As seen, a New Japan elimination match is the panacea that cures all frigidness and amplifies all heat. It would be the easiest route to getting a lot of good attention on these title defenses. EXCEPT, they did that elimination tag on January 23, to support the Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship main event at Ota Ward Gym. Now, that show drew a sell-out, in Tokyo under a State of Emergency when the previously unassailable Korakuen was doing as low as 57% capacity on Night 2. It bolstered that Road To show, but the Hiroshima shows are more important, and it’s easy to wonder whether they should have saved the 1/25 draw or, especially, the 1/23 elimination tag for the February 8 go-home Korakuen. Seeing the verve and enthusiasm evoked by the elimination tags on these past two shows, I have no doubt that these matches, especially Ibushi’s perfunctory defense, would have benefited greatly from that scheduling, rather than the jejune traditional tag matches that close out this tour. Fucking yawn.

To begin, the most important thing: while Suzuki-gun is absent on this show, there is always a Despy bear somewhere. The first one appears at 20:49, as Ishimori has Taguchi in a side headlock. It’s right behind Ishimori on the west side of Korakuen. Don’t worry, it’s impossible for me to disappoint anyone anymore!

Gabriel Kidd def. Yota Tsuji

Kidd attained his revenge for last night’s loss. It would have been quite disillusioning if he didn’t, considering that his backstage comment on February 1st was entirely focused upon coming back strong and willing himself to defeat Tsuji, whereas Tsuji made absolutely no mention of Kidd at all in his 2/1 backstage comment. No, Tsuji instead broke out some Wrestlenomics and, citing his research of BUSHIROAD financial statements, declared that since NJPW WORLD has 110,000 subscribers, if he challenged Tetsuya Naito and got 55,000 likes he should receive the match by some forced concession. Technically, this should be a first-past-the-post situation and Tsuji should get 55,001 likes. It’s a clever strategy, though he undermined it by speculating that New Japan would ignore his request, and that he wouldn’t mind it if they did. You’re not getting a match with Tetsuya Naito through composure, young man. Either way, Tsuji doesn’t give a fuck about Gabriel Kidd, and he lost the return match.

Also of note: nothing is more reliable in producing deep, honest laughter than edits in the backstage comments. It rarely happens, and I find it addictive to speculate on the causes. In this case, it is simple: Tsuji bowed his head and walked off after his request to New Japan, which has zero chance of even being considered. Then there is an clear cut, after which he walks back into frame to address Naito’s criticism of Tsuji holding the ropes for him. The best guess us that Tsuji forgot all the points he was supposed to hit and they pushed him back out there. It must have been critical for Tsuji to address this point, for a match that will not happen for ages. Hilarious. It happens around 2:20 here:

This match was crisper and much more snug than last night’s contest, which seemed more like two guys reacquainting themselves. Kidd’s eyes were bugged out all match, as he was lazer-focused upon victory and revenge. The lock-ups were fervent and strong, and the ending was sensational, all action with a roll-through and a beautiful butterfly suplex. Afterwards, Kidd decided that besting Tsuji in athletics was not enough; he must outclass Tsuji in misguided bravado as well. Kidd challenged Shingo to a match at the New Japan Cup, to Shingo’s smirking amusement. ***1/4

El Phantasmo and Taiji Ishimori def. Yuya Uemura and Ryusuke Taguchi

Are you an irredeemable, self-aware reprobate that demands your pro wrestling offense to either:

  • A) Target a poor recipient’s tender perineum?
  • B) Be administered through the assailant’s coarsened anus?

Well my friend, let me tell you about this match. It is the manifestation of all your dreams, conflated into an 11-minute package. And believe me, Amazon can withhold the tip on that package. Now if you’ll excuse me, I desperately need a scalding hot shower.

The last time we saw Ryusuke Taguchi was at Wrestle Kingdom, so you would have expected him to be quite spry in this one. He was. Coming off a big elimination tag victory, you’d expect El Phantasmo to be obstreperously cavalier. Why, he was downright CONTUMACIOUS. You motherfuckers.

There were quite a few ELP sunglasses in the crowd, and ELP noted this during his entrance. Now, if you abhor El Phantasmo in this persona, Budokan Hall could be filled to the brim with these goddamn sunglasses and you would be 100% justified to remain adamant in your revulsion. But I do think that you must follow the merch trail in an idol-like promotion such as New Japan. I didn’t count ELP’s actual merch; only El Desperado deserves to have his merch counted. But it is something to keep an eye on. ELP had merch out there, and there was a substantial amount of Bullet Club merchandise throughout the night.

As noted, ELP performed his hydraulic grundle press routine, which later became a double grundle press when Ishimori joined the action. Taguchi flung his rectum and upper buttock fold liberally. There was a generous amount of backraking from Bullet Club. They’ve been hitting this gimmick hard, and I have to wonder what their fingernail regiment must be. With the alacrity that they perform this horseplay, I’d say a fervent acetone scrub followed by a milk and honey soak, MINIMUM.

This was engaging if you can tolerate an aimless, languid control period by the champions, replete with the back-raking and exasperating heel frivolity imbued in the El Phantasmo experience. At one point, during his flurry of sphincter bombardment, Taguchi had ELP drapped over the bottom rope. Taguchi slid under the rope and went for a hip attack from the floor. I suppose the purpose was to jump and catch ELP flush with his “hip.” I’m pretty sure you’d have to be an Olympic high jumper to make that leap, so I didn’t like Taguchi’s chances. His shoulder reached Phantasmo and Taguchi just sat on the apron.

There was a few sensational moments, like when Uemura launched Ishimori with his Kanuki suplex as Taguchi hit a top rope crossbody to the floor on ELP. It ruled. What a tremendous near-fall. Uemura locked Ishimori’s bulbous legs into a Boston crab, leaving him wide open for the load boot superkick from ELP. That was very good; they only made one brief reference to the boot all match, so the finish was a nice reminder. ***1/4

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Master Wato, SHO, Tomoaki Honma & Kota Ibushi def. BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi, Tetsuya Naito & SANADA 

I am absolutely convinced that Stella is writing this series of backstage comment sketches between SHO, Hiromu Takahashi, and Kota Ibushi. When I see those three, I see Michael, Michael, and David. When there is an awkward silence near the end, I expect James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” to play as the three instantly and inexplicably start to pensively reflect on their regrets and their mortality.

For his part, Naito obliterated Honma with a backstage comment that was a series of grumbles in that soul-decimating Honma growl. The promo was:

“Grumble grumble… grumble… grumble grumble grumble… grumble… grumble grumble… grumble grumble grumble… grumble…grumble grumble grumble… grumble… ADIOS.”

Los InGRUMBLEnables! Right? (Please love me.)

The reason for this situation is self-evident: with KENTA out of the picture, people are trying their god-damnedest to get some kind of lead in the Best Backstage Comments race. These are instantly legendary promos. I don’t think that is hyperbole, considering the participants. And yet… however great these are, KENTA will think of something that will top them. Effortlessly. He probably already has thought of something. That will be paltry consolation when Jacksonville runs the table in the Observer awards, but hey… Jay White might get Top 5, right?

Naito continued this scurrilous impersonation in this match, growling as he exchanged forearms with Honma. The crowd responded by openly laughing, just laughing at Honma’s humanity being reduced to a hoarse murmur. Considering how callous Naito has been to this nearly infirm gamboge veteran (who is nearly a year younger than Tomohiro Ishii), the most logical conclusion to this story would be Honma valiantly rendering unto Naito a mortifying defeat. Life is a paradox, however. The illogic of Tomoaki Honma defeating the most popular wrestler of this generation is so overwhelming that it nullifies the logic of Honma’s victory.

There’s not much to say about this one. If you saw the match from February 1st, there’s absolutely no reason to watch this match. If you missed the match from February 1st, then… watch this one, I suppose? It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to watch all the shows. It is critical that you read all of the reviews, (Randy Sklar voice) HERE IN THE VOW ZONE , but watching the cards themselves is completely unnecessary. That is what makes this de facto Korakuen hall residency so strange; the crowds already seem burnt out on these guys, but they still engaged with the match.

Once again, the highlight was the commendable work between Master Wato and BUSHI, which is funny because the entire first leg of this tour was anchored around them in the main event, and they weren’t half as good in those matches as they have been here. Quintessential Wato. Quintessential BUSHI.

After the match, Ibushi displayed his beautifully iridescent feathers to Shingo, as he had done to Taichi earlier in the tour. If Ibushi is lining up defenses, and these are the ones on deck (along with the inevitable Tanahashi showdown), this could be a spectacular pandemic title reign. ***1/4

BULLET CLUB (Yujiro Takahashi, Tanga Loa, Tama Tonga, Jay White & EVIL) def. CHAOS (Toru Yano, YOSHI-HASHI, Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii & Kazuchika Okada)

Jay White was inserted into this match, which had absolutely zero purpose beforehand, besides the delight of an elimination match. In his backstage comment on February 1st, he established the new credo of the Bullet Club: this is the real Bullet Club, be wary of false prophets. It’ll be hard to stay a heel to the New Japan faithful, for however long Jay White has left as a heel, with words like that.

There’s a wonderful comedic manga called Arakawa Under the Bridge. The author is also famous for her other series, Saint Oniisan. Arakawa is about an executive whose family philosophy is to never owe anyone anything. Through a series of mishaps, he ends up living under a bridge after one of its bizarre denizens saves his life. The plot is not important. The important portion of the manga are the poetic, metaphysically beautiful mini-chapters the author wrote to begin each volume. In one, a narrator ruminates on the idea that the odds of living at the same time and place as a significant person in your life is astronomically small. Why am I wasting everyone’s time with this weeb garbage? Because the odds that we would inhabit the same time, space, and reality as Tomohiro Ishii are astronomically low, but we do and thus we can never consider ourselves truly unlucky.

Ishii just storms out of the backstage area and attacks Jay White, without backup or anything resembling a strategy. It will be interesting to see the escalation of this feud. They will see each other quite a bit over the next month and one can already perceive the same vibes that made the Tencozy-Empire program so marvelous. It will obviously present a different dynamic, owning to the differences between Jay White’s heel persona and the Empire’s, but the rabid vs. bitter conflict is already delicious.

As all elimination matches, this one was a fucking blast. Unlike February 1st, which gradually built the intensity of the match up to the first elimination,  this one began in a shambolic manner and kept that energy for a substantial portion of the match. Hirooki Goto in particular was looking quite spry.

There was less playing with form in this one. EVIL’s elimination was traditionally dumb, just a wrestler charging into a low bridge and flying over the top rope, a finish that was overplayed by the mid-’90s. Okada proved how ready for Orlando he is by diving onto EVIL to eliminate himself, because he had to get a piece of EVIL’s ass right then and there! What saved this was the pull apart. Both competitors needed their entire teams to separate them. This is pretty cool because the entire match had been a lot of sneaky brawling and outright bedlam. It was significant that the teams chose to separate EVIL and Okada instead of using their fight as a justification for more pandemonium. It gets across the notion that they had to keep those two apart.

The finish to this was phenomenal. One might think, why YOSHI-HASHI? Because he is the KING OF KORAKUEN HALL. KORAKUEN IS HIS DEMESNE AND THE PEOPLE OF KORAKUEN RESPECT AND CHERISH HIS SOVEREIGNTY. Last night, Prince Regent of Korakuen DOUKI held firm in his elimination tag. On this card, the King returned. And my goodness did he get this finish over. He ate moves and finishes until Goto finally threw in the towel. Compare this to other finishes in elimination matches. For instance, let’s say someone ate a finisher, was instantly picked up, and in the process of being thrown out, simply reversed the toss, threw the other guy out, and celebrated. All within 5 seconds of taking the finisher. I’ll take Goto throwing in the towel, thanks.

That’s what is so great about these elimination tags. By adding the simple element of top-rope elimination, and making the throw-out the base of eliminations instead of merely an additional option, it provides additional resonance to any other method of elimination. Especially a protected one like a teammate throwing in the towel. Absolutely brilliant, and with the subsequent booking of the Six-Man Tag title defense on February 11th, this now feels like the hottest match on the New Beginning in Hisoshima events.

Afterward, Jay White’s backstage comments were interrupted by a rampaging Goto. I LOVE backstage comment interruptions. They haven’t overdone it yet, so they feel fresh and meaningful. ***3/4


Whenever a New Japan card has an elimination match, that card is worth watching. The card itself contains only 60 minutes of ring-time, but the elimination match is must-see. They effectively established a new match for New Beginning and made it the most interesting match on those shows.