New Japan Pro Wrestling
THE NEW BEGINNING in HIROSHIMA (Night 1)
February 10th, 2021
Hiroshima Sun Plaza Hall
Watch: NJPW World
Meet our previewers:
Jeri Evans: She is the unapologetic fangirl of Voices Of Wrestling, so far has yet to become jaded and cynical in this COVID World, although she has started viewing parties for wrestling with her plushies so let us hold off on applauding keeping her sanity. She can be found with lukewarm and middling takes at @TheJerriest_Jer on Twitter.
John Carroll: John is of course the host of Wrestling Omakase (come check out our Patreon for lots of bonus audio, including an upcoming exclusive 5 Matches episode with Post Wrestling’s WH Park covering puro from four different decades!) and is currently judging your NJPWxAEW “dream match” lists for having terrible Tetsuya Naito opponents (correct answers: PAC, Fenix, MJF). Come follow them on Twitter @toshanshuinla or follow their podcast instead @wrestleomakase, it’s probably less stupid.
Yota Tsuji, Yuya Uemura & Gabriel Kidd vs. Suzukigun (Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
Jeri: Whenever you get a chance to see the Young Lions step up it’s a good time. This should be short, filled with both Young Lion abuse and Young Lion spirit. I am all in on all three Young Lions and hope all three get nice moments to shine in this match. Unfortunately they are going to get Suzuki-Gun so they are going to lose, they are going to hurt, and I’m probably going to enjoy all of it going down. I love Young Lion openers and you should never skip them. Getting to watch the future gear up and improve is always special and worthwhile. Prediction: Suzukigun
John: Suzukigun occupies a weird space in the New Japan canon right now- they’re clearly positioned as the babyfaces in their feud against BULLET CLUB (the first real BC vs. SZKG feud we’ve had in many years, probably dating all the way back to when Killer Elite Squad and Gallows & Anderson briefly feuded over the IWGP Tag Team Titles leading into Wrestle Kingdom 8 in late 2013/early 2014), but they seem to be resisting a full-on turn to the new “true neutral” unit of the company. I thought they would be taking up that role and replacing LIJ who have been obvious babyfaces for a while now (and CHAOS before them), especially now that we have another heel unit in the UNITED EMPIRE, but at this point Suzukigun has stayed pretty close to their heel roots; witness Zack Sabre Jr. still making sure to call the fans idiots even while swearing revenge against the Guerillas of Destiny at Korakuen this past week, for example. Hey, they’re plenty popular already even as heels (easily the second most popular unit in the company after LIJ), so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it I guess. They’re gonna torture some Young Lions here which is always a good time. Minoru Suzuki’s next move is of course worth keeping your eye on- he teased a challenge of the now very much busy KENTA a few weeks ago, and that would certainly be a new feud worth getting excited over (and would stick to the recent SZKG vs. BC theme). Prediction: Suzukigun
Master Wato vs. BUSHI
Jeri: This is the most middling mildly mediocre match up made. I would say my interest is low, but I can’t even muster the interest to write about it in any great detail or importance. BUSHI has a ceiling, it is low, he rarely breaks it and when he does it’s barely. Master Wato at times shows promise and I convince myself there’s something there, then immediately he does something that makes that go all away immediately. I hope they can muster a three star effort here, but I don’t expect it to go any higher. This is a match up I’ll watch, I’ll forget, and it won’t fall into my list of great matches or awful matches, it happened, and I’ll forget it happened. Prediction: Master Wato
John: I’m a little higher on this one than my colleague is above, but only a little. It’s nice to see New Japan put effort into building an undercard singles match of any kind, let alone a non-title junior match, something they don’t do nearly enough of. Even though people seemed to kinda like his awkward partnership with Tenzan, Wato just feels like a more natural act on his own lately now that Tenzan seems to have quietly left his side (we’ll see if he rejoins him now that his feud with O-Khan is over, I guess), and they’ve made some slight adjustments to his look that have really helped him too. The black hair with slight blue highlights just looks a lot less goofy than the blue hair, and the new gear looks better too as far as not looking like a walking cartoon. The ring work is still kind of a work in progress and he still has absolutely no idea what he’s doing on the mic, but these tweaks have helped him quite a bit. He hasn’t stood out at all in a negative way during the build to this match even though he’s frequently been involved in main event or semi-main level tags. BUSHI is BUSHI of course, which is to say a perfectly solid veteran junior who for sure has a ceiling, so this won’t be some kind of classic. But I doubt anyone is expecting it to be, either. Anyway, the winner seems straightforward to me- BUSHI beat Wato during the BOSJ back on December 2nd in Osaka, so Wato likely gets his win back here. That could even lead to his first IWGP Jr. Title challenge at the end of this show….. Prediction: Master Wato
CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI & Toru Yano) vs. BULLET CLUB (EVIL, Jay White, Yujiro Takahashi, El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori)
Jeri: Jay White you magnificent bastard I love rooting against, I’m so glad you stayed. This could be a lot of fun with a combination of great talents, personalities, and Yujiro Takahashi. There are a lot of moving parts here and previews of potential and coming attractions that can be played up to make for an interesting five on five match up. They’ve been going at it back and forth lately, and the disdain and hate continues to build. This is going to be a lot of fun and continue that trend and increase and escalate tensions and future matchups/stories going forward. I’m looking forward to this one. Prediction: BULLET CLUB
John: Work or shoot, the Jay White thing made him look like one of the biggest stars in wrestling. It’s certainly never a bad thing for either the wrestler or the company to make one of your wrestlers look like he’s in demand everywhere before ultimately choosing to stay with you, that is for sure. Some people seemed underwhelmed by how he returned and I certainly get that- there were probably bigger stages than a three-quarters empty Korakuen Hall to do it, but it’s obvious they wanted to get him back into the swing of things before these Hiroshima shows, and you can certainly see their logic given the level of star power he adds (especially to Night 2, which desperately needed a second “big match” so badly that even a NEVER 6-man match qualifies). Others are disappointed that it seems to be status quo for White, right back to BULLET CLUB with the previous teases of EVIL dissension seemingly dropped for now, but if you look at what else has been happening involving another BC member lately I think there could possibly be other reasons for that too. Jay lives in Florida too, I believe….
Anyway, for now I think a returning Ishii feud is a good way to get him back into the swing of things and probably give him a singles win at one of the upcoming CASTLE ATTACK shows heading into a New Japan Cup where he’ll be considered one of the favorites. Remember, when Kenny Omega pulled a very similar act to Jay White in 2017 after losing the Tokyo Dome main event- disappearing after the show while fans speculated that he could be heading to WWE (even the idea of him showing up at the Royal Rumble was the same!)- his first feud after his return was with Ishii as well. Meanwhile, the only other big story of note here is Okada vs. EVIL, which continues to drag along toward a seemingly inevitable singles match at CASTLE ATTACK. It seemed a little hot at first on the Road To shows but quickly lost steam as Okada has taken it less and less seriously, and given that EVIL already plays everything with a permanent smirk, having two guys going “yeah, sure, I wanna fight you….” with disingenuous smirks on their faces is not exactly making me clamor to see the match. It feels like something we’re all just waiting for them to get over with at this point. Prediction: BULLET CLUB
Kota Ibushi & Tomoaki Honma vs. Tetsuya Naito & SANADA
Jeri: The last grasp push to get me into Ibushi/SANADA. I assume it’s going to fail. It’s not so much I think SANADA is bad as much as I always find him inconsistent and uninteresting. I don’t expect a lot out of this match, maybe Naito getting that extended pinfall over Honma again while Ibushi and SANADA stare . . . .and stare . . .and stare. Riveting and captivating staring. The levels of high quality staring is impressive to a certain degree of wondering what else we going to get. I’m sure they’ll all work hard and put forward an adequate match up, but I don’t find it all that engaging going in. I hope Ibushi/SANADA can get some heat and tension going on before their title match. I’m guessing Honma falls to Naito here. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito & SANADA
John: Look, I like Kota Ibushi and I like SANADA. Quite a bit for both of them, actually. But these two statues staring at each other is not anyone’s idea of a hot build for a double title match, and I think we’ve all kind of collectively handwaved it at this point. New Beginning title defenses are pretty hit-or-miss in general and the build for this one at least has definitely been a miss, although there’s still time for them to surprise us and overdeliver on the actual match of course. Naito vs. Honma on the other hand has been a great deal of fun, a far better post-WK loss time-wasting feud for Naito than the YOSHI-HASHI feud was in 2018. Of course Honma is incredibly limited and all that, but his quest to get a singles match with an increasingly dismissive Naito has been really entertaining. It gave us the first 25-count pinfall in wrestling history last week, as well as possibly the greatest promo of all time, so really how can anyone complain? Anyway Honma is losing again of course. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito & SANADA
IWGP Tag Team Championship
Guerillas of Destiny © vs. Dangerous Tekkers
Jeri: I don’t normally put together prayer circles, because I don’t believe in prayer and I am very suspicious of anything that doesn’t have corners, but I am putting my Plushies in a circle before this show to pray for the Tekkers reclaiming the titles. I appreciate them doing their all to get me into this, and with Tonga Loa working his butt off and Dangerous Tekkers in general being awesome it’s possible they’ll keep Tama from bringing the match down. I am cautiously optimistic this can be damn good, but my enjoyment will all depend on the result. If Dangerous Tekkers reclaim their titles I may over rate this, if the G.O.D retain I’ll probably be harsh as fuck. Maybe that’s not fair but it’s the truth. I have my biases and I’m not afraid to admit them. I really want Tekkers to regain the belts. At the same time I feel like either winner puts this division in a rut once more, but of the two I prefer Tekkers. I so hope for Tekkers. Prediction: Dangerous Tekkers
John: The Dangerous Tekkers were the best thing to happen to the NJPW heavyweight tag division in many, many years. Anyone who tried to sell you on “oh they were just the foils for Tanahashi & Ibushi, they weren’t actually that important” (a real argument I’ve seen out of people!) clearly didn’t watch them in the World Tag League, where they worked their asses off and were a huge reason why that tournament was finally truly interesting. GOD getting the belts back at the Tokyo Dome was thus hugely deflating, but this immediate rematch gives us some real hope that the Tekkers might be able to quickly get back to the top of this division.
It’s not even that I hate GOD at this point- Tanga Loa especially has made some huge improvements in his ring work, and Tama Tonga showed throughout this feud that he can be really entertaining when he feels like it (the “iron fingers saga”, with Tama cutting increasingly bizarre promos entirely in Japanese about the unique weapon, has been a lot of fun). But this is their SEVENTH REIGN as champions. They’re all over the history books now- the most reigns in history and the third most combined days as champions (although they would need to hold them quite a long time more, about ten months or so, just to catch TenCozy for second there, and then another almost three months more after that to catch Chono & Tenzan for first). They had a signature reign of 315 days back in 2019, almost a whole year. It’s just never not gonna feel like a repeat at this point to have them with the belts, and I think most people would be far more interested in seeing them get involved with the burgeoning AEW/NJPW thing (especially given Tama is none too shy with his feelings about Kenny Omega and the “fake BULLET CLUB”) than have yet another long IWGP tag reign. Of course, they could do both I guess, but I’d rather see the Tekkers hold down the fort with these titles back in Japan and let GOD go do their thing in Florida. Ultimately, I kinda think that might be just what happens. GOD lose here, probably lose the day after too, and head back to the US for a while. That’s certainly what I’m hoping for at any rate. The iron finger storyline that I mentioned earlier definitely feels like it’s building up to Taichi finally getting them back and nailing Tama Tonga in the face with them after Tama used them to beat the Tekkers twice in a row (first during their WTL match and then again at the Dome), but I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Prediction: Dangerous Tekkers
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship
Hiromu Takahashi © vs. SHO
Jeri Evans: ALL OF THIS! Hiromu Takahashi is one of the best wrestlers performing out there, he is one of the tops of NJPW, and seeing him with the Jr. Championship again is just wonderful. I know there are calls/predictions/hopes he moves up but god damn do I love him in this division. SHO I expect to move up at some point, but I’ve really enjoyed his work separated from YOH (no disrespect to YOH), and while injuries suck I think YOH’s injury has benefitted SHO. It’s allowed him to shoot out on his own and showcase himself a bit more. This has the makings of a great main event and awesome Jr. Heavyweight Championship match up. I’m loving the Jr. Championship being a top attraction as Semi-Main Events and Main Events, and it shows how highly NJPW view Hiromu giving him these positions. I love him so much. Um, sorry for the fawning. I think Hiromu retains but I wouldn’t be surprised at some near falls that make my heart skip and my voice scream. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi
John: Hiromu Takahashi is undoubtedly one of the biggest stars in this company, junior or not (if you’d like yet another recent example, if you watched the music video with a major Japanese celebrity that was released leading up to Wrestle Kingdom, it featured the following lineup of wrestlers: Okada, Naito, Ibushi, Tanahashi…..and Hiromu), and it’s great to see him here in another main event just like Jeri said. Frankly I’m way more excited for this title match than I am for the double title match between Ibushi & SANADA on Night 2; part of that is the idiosyncratic build throughout the Road To shows, featuring Kota himself repeatedly interjecting into Hiromu & SHO’s promos for bizarre (but in a good way) three-way segments. When combined with the virtual nothing being done to promote Ibushi/SANADA, it definitely has left Hiromu vs. SHO feeling like a bigger deal. That also is likely early build for the traditional IWGP Heavyweight vs. Junior champion main event at the anniversary show, though of course even whoever wins here (and in Kota/SANADA) will almost certainly have to get through another defense at CASTLE ATTACK first.
But back to this match, while I don’t think SHO is a heavy underdog or anything, I do think Hiromu has to be considered the favorite. It would feel more than a little weird to have Hiromu drop the belt a month after he just got it back from Ishimori, and plus SHO beat him during the BOSJ so they would usually have Hiromu getting his win back here. On the other hand, while there’s an obvious next challenger in Master Wato (which is going to piss a lot of people off if it happens, so get ready for that!), perhaps instead they do two quick title changes here with SHO winning and then losing it back to Hiromu in an immediate rematch in Osaka. It’s a unique scenario this year to be sure with the additional pre-anniversary/NJC big show that we don’t normally have, so that definitely adds to the intrigue here. Ultimately though, I think Hiromu wins this and continues his march to another Budokan main event at the anniversary show. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi