NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING
ROAD TO NEW BEGINNING – NIGHT 11
February 8, 2021
KORAKUEN HALL
TOKYO, JAPAN

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

We’ve done it. We’ve reached the conclusion of the New Beginning tour, with only two frosty New Beginning cards left for Hiroshima. 22 days down, 3 more to go. A thoroughly unorthodox tour by any measure… except by many, it actually wasn’t. The tour has certainly seemed laboriously long, but it isn’t much different from other recent tours.

The 2021 New Beginning Tour comprises 12 Road To shows over 22 days. By number of dates, we see other traditional Road To tours that are equally voluminous. We only need to go back a few years and we see that 12 dates is not an outlandish number. For instance, the Road to Power Struggle 2020 tour had 10 Road To shows. Another would be the 2019’s Road to Destruction. This is pre-Covid and had 11 dates. 2018’s Road to Destruction likewise had 11 scheduled cards.

Of course, it’s not the number of shows that is the issue, it’s the duration over which they are spread out. But even the 22-day sprawl of this tour is not unprecedented. It is a bit unusual, for sure. The 2020 Power Struggle 10 shows were spread out over 13 days. Likewise, both the 2018 and 2019 Road to Destruction tours scattered their 11 cards over 16 days, still nearly a week shorter than this tour.

But there are tours that are more comparable to the 2021 New Beginning tour, and we don’t have to look too far back to find one. The 2019 Road to Wrestling Dontaku circuit sounds familiar: 12 shows over the course of 18 days. The 2018 Road to Wrestling Dontaku ran 14 shows over 18 days. This New Beginning tour was longer, but not by an obscene amount.

The New Beginning campaign, for obvious reasons, has been unique. Due to restrictions, the FantasticaMania tour that usually precedes it had to be canceled, which accounts for the extra days it had to absorb. In response to the State of Emergency, New Japan changed start dates and minimized the number of matches to five on most cards. The showtimes and total in-ring time was all within the same timeframe, and show a substantive decrease from pre-SOE numbers.

The twelve Road to New Beginning shows averaged 1:01:09 of in-ring time, though this includes the 1/23 show that is labeled a Road To show. With a big elimination tag match and Junior Heavyweight Tag Team championship defense, calling it a Road To show is dubious. That show ran 1:18:46, well above any other Road To show on the tour. It is only 4:34 shorter than the New Beginning in Nagoya event.

Removing that 1/23 show drops the average to 59:33 of ringtime per show, ranging between 55:25 and 1:05:20. This is roughly ten minutes shorter than the last pre-SOE tour, the Road to Tokyo Dome tour in December 2020. That run averaged 1:09:48 per show.

As far as the effects, we all know the circumstances, and they certainly should assuage criticism, but it shouldn’t nullify efforts in assessing the situation and monitoring the effects of those circumstances if any emerge. Because they are running Korakuen an abnormal amount of times in a 6-week span. It might not have a substantial effect on the attendances; this show drew a passable 491, and the 2/3 show drew a commendable 600, the first time they’ve cracked that number at the venue since Night 1. After a couple of weeks with some very weak houses, this is a very positive sign as this tour reaches its denouement.

Suzki-Gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado & Minoru Suzuki) def. Gabriel Kidd, Yuya Uemura & Ryusuke Taguchi

Because Suzuki-gun entered to the traditional “Kaze ni Nare,” the broadcast focused on presenting general SZG merch, and not Despy merch. I did spot a Desperado towel and shirt, but that was all. But remember this: there is always a Despy bear, and I tried my god damnedest to find one, using every scouring trick I know. I’ve even presented screenshots in previous reviews, with Guthrian circles and arrows, to support this aphorism. The pictures were intended to be a bit of lighthearted fun; only inadvertently does it provide airtight evidence of my mental instability and pitifully low intelligence level.

On this show: I tried, folks, and yet… no Despy bears presented themselves on this night. It was the lowlight of the event.

This was the best Young Lion-related match of the tour, easily. Each faction has its own idiosyncratic display of supremacy over the Young Lions, and Suzuki-gun’s is the best by a far margin.

  • LIJ are jocular; as seen with Naito on his New Beginning Tour of Blithe Mischief, the staid, rigid traditions of the Young Lions are fair game, right down to their Queen’s Guard adjacent posture. LIJ’s interactions with the Young Lions flirt with meta-wrestling, gleefully. It is demeaning but remains within a specific range where KIJ comes across as scamps instead of bullies.
  • CHAOS generally team with Young Lions, essentially treating them as honorary members. This is keeping in line with their new persona as a loose collective, a syndicate of wholesomeness that has, indeed, been almost entirely absorbed by Hontai. The outlier is Okada: the most acknowledgment he gives the kids is an austere back-pat.
  • The United Empire does not have the free time to fuck around with trainees. They’ve treated the Young Lions, in their minimal interactions, as perfunctory obstacles they have to endure in the process of euthanizing the company’s brazen near-retirees.
  • Suzuki-gun beats the fucking bejesus out of the Young Lions and laughs in their faces the entire time. That’s all.

There are simply too many delectable morsels to pick out of this match. At one point, El Desperado did a fake punch to scare Yota Tsuji, calling back to the times he’s done thing like scare Tsuji with the time-keeper’s hammer.

Uemura stormed the ring and attacked Suzuki. This is great because there was an element of genuine surprise. Uemura is still in the “Always Be Storming” phase of the Young Lion process, so the intentions of his assault were hidden until the point of attack. A brilliant bit of strategy, except for one minor aspect: the target. Suzuki mercilessly bludgeoned this poor kid as a reward for such gusto.

BUT, Uemura gave it back at times, with vigor! His frantically relentless offense at times overwhelmed Suzuki’s joyously macabre no-sell. Suzuki would spin Uemura into the corner and Uemura would spin Suzuki right back. There was one glorious sequence where Uemura impudently delivered some hard slaps, which incensed Suzuki to the point where he held the Irish whip… so Uemura started slapping him more. Tinyhashi needs to graduate from Young Lions status now so we can get a series between these two before Suzuki hits the vet-60’s.

Also of note: Taguchi did the thing where he climbs to the second rope and seemingly begs his partners to Irish whip their opponents inside his anal cavity. Or to bounce them off his steel coccyx? Either way, the Young Lions are too pure for this, but the hierarchy of Japanese culture dictates that they cannot protest a superior, even in the production of such gross public perversion. Of course, as always SZG reversed the whip, and Gabriel Kidd was on the receiving end of a 1.25 Sanchez.

I’d have to imagine Gabriel Kidd has no clue who Mark Sanchez is, or who the Patriots or Jets are, or why people are and forever will be obsessed with a second-quarter play in a week 12 Thanksgiving Night game from a decade ago that ended in a 49-19 blowout. And yet, Gabriel Kidd reenacted this iconic moment in sports history.

Taguchi should know about this. If he doesn’t, how committed is he to this character? I always assumed the character was specifically devised in response to that play. Either way, Taguchi didn’t do much in this one. The best thing he did was improbably escape after SZG cornered him after the match. This was fun from pillar to post.  ***1/2

BULLET CLUB (Yujiro Takahashi, Jay White & EVIL) def. CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii & Kazuchika Okada)

Is CHAOS an actual organization? Look at it this way: if Great Bash Heel stormed BUSHIROAD’s offices and trashed the Board of Director’s chambers, conservative Japanese wrestling twitter would downplay it by insisting that CHAOS was a complexly structured threat to New Japan.

Jay White certainly has embodied an extremist’s level of paranoia in the last few days. After Hirooki Goto did something interesting for the first time in years by leaving the desk and attacking Jay during the 2/3 show, which itself was a follow-up to Goto attacking Jay during White’s 2/2 backstage comments, New Ja… actually, hold up.

Let’s make sure this is very clear: New Japan has a Badass Fed Up Face surplus, and it rules. Tencozy did not care one bit about the ethical ramifications of what they had to do to eviscerate The United Empire. They just did it. Tomohiro Ishii certainly doesn’t care what the situation is, he will just break off a match at any point to go attack Jay. Add Goto to these circumstances now.

Backstage comment? GO TO NOT GIVING A FUCK.

Behind the commentary desk? GO TO NOT GIVING A FUCK.

Slap on the wrist through New Japan press release? GO TO NOT GIVING A FUCK.

I like avuncular Goto, but I want to see 5 years of this Goto. Enough with the platitudinal backstage comments and climate-controlled ringside staredowns. I want to see carnage. I want to see audacious onslaught. I want to see disdain manifested as tumult and chaos. And I want this strain of animus to include Goto.

This one ended with a DQ, and this one was peculiar.  It was the first of two somewhat-protected finishes devalued by something that happened earlier in the tour. In this case, the No Contests between The United Empire and Tencozy made this brawl look like child’s play. EVIL did his batting practice home run thing with the two chairs and… outstanding work? Maybe, when trying to present the idea of unrestrained anger and disgust, pull out a new trick instead of one that we’ve seen at least 100 times? These are the jejune, banal, conventional methods that take us right out of the frenzy, and stands very unfavorably in contrast to the United Empire/Tencozy or White/Ishii+Goto stuff mentioned above. **1/2

Post-script: Long-time backstage comment followers would know that whenever people brawl to the back, delicious backstage comments usually result. In successive days, Jay has been attacked in the back by Goto on 2/2 and then Ishii on 2/3. The Ishii one was hilarious, because Ishii attacked Jay and dragged him through that grody steel door at Korakuen. After a jump cut, Jay stumbled back into shot wearing a track jacket and wielding a chair. Nothing is funnier than an edit in the backstage comments.

In the post-match here, CHAOS chased Jay to the back after taunted King of Korakuen YOSHI-HASHI, who fell for the interference DQ bait. Typically, the backstage comment would show backstage brawling, usually for 15-20 seconds. This one was different. Instead of the traditional backdrop, Jay and Gedo cut a backstage comment in front of two steel doors, having used the backstage bench as a barricade, holding the doors shut as the CHAOS boys banged on the other side, frothing with bloodthirst. Jay then cut a resentful three-minute promo before he and Gedo literally ran away down a flight of stairs. MASTERFUL. WHO COULDN’T LOVE THIS?

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Suzuki-gun (DOUKI, Zack Sabre Jr & Taichi) DEF BULLET CLUB (Jado, Tanga Loa & Tama Tonga)

Tex Avery continues to book this program, as the cartoonishly farcical interplay between Taichi and Tama Tonga over Iizuka’s iron fingers progresses. Tama continues to prance around, his shrill shrieks of fundamental phrases Japanese piercing the air. The Korakuen locals seem to adore this characterization and maniacal use of their native tongue.

Taichi is a possessed avenger, a toppled despot obsessed with regaining the symbolic token of his divine sovereignty and power. In this chapter of the Taichi mythos, he had three puzzles to solve. Each time he wrestled a bag away from Tama. The first, a sling bag, contained some kind of gardening glove. The second, a backpack, contained a baseball glove. The third, a smaller backpack, contained a rubber chicken.

In my 2/3 review, I praised Gedo’s 70’s booking ideas for BULLET CLUB whilst also lambasting several advertisements that air on the Olympic channel. What also airs on the Olympic Channel are a bevy of tremendous Time Life Collection infomercials. Most are musical: The Soul of the Midnight Special, Country’s Got Heart, Classic Soul Ballads, Sweet Soul of the 70’s, Love Songs of the 60’s (RIP Mary Wilson), The Teenage Years, The Best of Soft Rock… even if I hate the genre, I love the infomercial (and to be clear, The Soul of Midnight Special infomercial fucking rules and Classic Soul Ballads is a legit classic). But there are also television-based collections: The Best of Cher, The Best of George Carlin, Saturday Night Live: The Early Years, The Best of the Carol Burnett Show, and so on.

With the way Gedo’s booking ideas are headed, I think I might have to buy the Carol Burnett set, and just start speculating New Japan storylines in these reviews based on it. I’ll look downright prophetic. Carol also signs each copy!

Like much on that show, this Iron Fingers bit ended up being more hilarious than it has any right to be. And yes, if it was done anywhere else it would not have worked. Why? There are many reasons, but mainly this one: Orlando, Jacksonville, etc. do not have Taichi. That is the difference. Unlike literally everybody on the Carol Burnett Show, Taichi does not break.  His stoic, perpetually dismissive expression does not change. It either remains firm, or distorts into indefatigable anger while maintaining the baseline dismissiveness, which is what happened here. And so this ended up being a wonderful segment.

Since G.O.D.’s return last week, the backstage comments from all participants has brilliantly extended this heroic drama. What’s really bizarre in the 2/8 comments is that Tama and Taichi take a literally dramatic turn: both have delved into Macbeth territory here.

Tama Tonga has gone full-on Lady Macbeth, hallucinating and talking to inanimate objects. Tama hears things that tell him what to do, though in this case the agent driving his mental catastrophe is less overwhelming guilt and more delighted cruelty. Ambition to ridicule is still ambition; the thematic foundations hold true in this adaptation of the Scottish play.

Taichi is full-on Macbeth. He embodies all the best of post-“’twas a rough night” Macbeth: Taichi appears stone-faced from sleep deprivation, and arrogantly scornful of all but his closest allies. As related in the 2/8 comments, Taichi is haunted in his dreams and tormented by the specter of a former colleague and friend. The ghost of this fallen comrade portends disaster. This isn’t even a subtle adaptation anymore, it’s a faithful staging.

At this point, I’m expecting Nagata, Makabe, and Nakanishi to sway in unison around a steaming pot of chankonabe and start laying out conditions for Taichi’s demise. Beware Bad Luck, Taichi. Beware, but no man of dojo born can harm you.

The match was fine here, but nothing special. It was no better nor worse than their other interactions. The Zack Sabre hot tag was magnificent and continues to be the highlight of these matches. Zack’s high-strung demeanor and frenzied offense always fits this role. The finish was a simple superkick to put away Jado, which makes sense but was a little flat. ***

Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI and Tetsuya Naito) DEF Master Wato and Tomoaki Honma

Master Wato fans must be displeased by the return of Great Diva Tenzan-san to Wato’s presentation. Wato is progressing at a slower pace, for sure, but it’s not glacial. Consider this: Wato and BUSHI have often been the highlight of the multi-man tags they’ve participated in. Those that have judiciously picked away at this tour would be fucking baffled by that notion.

But it is true, to a degree. The problem: they have been noticeably less engaging in main events, and they main evented the entire first leg of the tour. Oy vey. You would have been well within reason to handwave them, but these guys have been snug, impactful, and at times inspired in their work together. Wato is a work in progress and BUSHI fucking sucks, but in general, I would deem it a successful pairing.

Wato might have adjusted some things, too. Watch the tornillo he unleashes in this match.  You should notice the greatly improved accuracy from the sometimes unnerving ones from 2020. The one from this show shows the difference: it seems to me that he has slowed the rotation down a bit and taken more control over the move. If that’s the case, it’s another bit of evidence that Wato is going to be a real treat for many years. Possibly a junior YOSHI-HASHI, in the best way.

As far as Honma, his assertion that Naito cannot replicate him is hogwash. At one point in this match, Naito had Honma in a sitting position, and just started laying in kicks. He did the Honma impression as he landed the kicks. The audience laughed, delighted at seeing a gamboge man with a thieved color scheme degraded. Me, I legitimately could not tell the difference between Naito’s Honma impression when kicking and Homna’s his-own-voice selling when being kicked.

Naito did the roll-up again, the one that netted him a 25 count earlier in the tour. He went for that again, but Wato came in and started laying into him. You really would expect, with how much of an irredeemable, disagreeable, callous prick Naito is being to Honma, that it would be insane for Honma not to score a fall in revenge. The problem: Honma scoring a fall on Naito is so insane is cancels out the previous insanity tenfold. ***1/4

SHO and Kota Ibushi vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Hiromu Takahashi and SANADA) – Time Limit Draw

First things first: the last 2-on-2 tag team draw in New Japan goes all the way back to December 23, 2013, with Road to the Tokyo Dome show that saw the CHAOS team of Shinsuke Nakamura and Kazuchika Okada go the full 30 minutes with Hiroshi Tanahashi and Tetsuya Naito. Yes, it was that Wrestle Kingdom, and no one conceivably could have taken the fall in that match. A little over seven years later, we return to this very protected finish. As a result, two ice-cold, debilitatingly frigid programs, the top two of the tour, were given a desperately needed revitalization.

That’s what I would say, except that a mere two weeks ago an even more protected finish happened: a 30-minute draw in a six-man tag, something that had not happened in eleven years. It did not happen even once in the 2010s.

The 1/25 six-man draw involved all of the wrestlers involved here, and it took quite a bit of steam away from this finish. That’s a shame, because this was an excellent match and should have felt invigorating to some arctic feuds.

These four have been married all goddamn tour, but they still managed to throw little wrinkles into this one that made things interesting. Ibushi and SANADA did the opposite corners appeal-to-the-crowd thing for the first time, and the crowd responded with alacrity. Ibushi also avoided SANADA’s over-the-top plancha after eating it for several straight shows. SHO and Hiromu, who spent the beginning of the tour working on interesting things out of the German suplex position, worked a cool struggle sequence around a traditional suplex position.

At one point, SANADA and Ibushi got a big laugh from the crowd by dragging their juniors to their corners for a tag. These are guys that don’t often get laughs, though I suppose SANADA usually does for the despised paradise lock. It must have been quite a bitter pill for that move’s detractors to see him put it on SHO and Ibushi simultaneously. At least those guys didn’t just lay there, motionless, like Wato did on 2/3. This is Korakuen Hall, Wato, not the San Francisco Armory.

The final minute was frantic and enthusiastic, ending with SANADA kicking out of an Ibushi rollup at the final bell. SANADA and Ibushi continued grappling, then both realized the draw was called at the same time. They gave each other that sporting look they’ve administered to each other all tour, and that was where I really wanted to feel the moment.

There were NO BACKSTAGE COMMENTS from any of the competitors. This is the go-home show and there were no comments. Not only that, all four of them were in the ring together, microphones strewn all over the ringside area. For over a week, Ibushi has been infiltrating SHO and Hiromu’s wholesome conversations about dreams backstage, trying to set up a conversation between the four members of this match. SANADA had been absent every time. THIS WAS THE CHANCE FOR THAT SUMMIT!

Instead, we once again had the same conversation between SANADA and Ibushi. I have been in contact with audiophiles and himbo academics, and we’ve pieced together this riveting and illuminating transcript:

SANADA: I am the person that deserves the next title shot.

Ibushi: I agree. You are the most worthy contender.

SANADA: We are going to have a wrestling contest for those championships.

Ibushi: Yes, we absolutely will have a wrestling match for these championships.

SANADA: Both titles will be on the line.

Ibushi: Without question. Each of these titles will be on the line.

SANADA: The IWGP Heavyweight Championship.

Ibushi:  The IWGP Heavyweight Championship is the strongest title. It must be on the line.

SANADA: The IWGP Intercontinental Championship.

Ibushi: That’s a good point, SANADA. The Intercontinental is the greatest title. There is no way we could leave it aside.

SANADA: So we will have a contest for those championships.

Ibushi: I believe we should absolutely have a wrestling match for the championships.

SANADA: Champion, I am confused. Why must you speak in riddles?

Ibushi: I apologize. What confuses you?

SANADA: Our match will be for those two titles.

Ibushi: Yes, both of these titles.

SANADA: Not one, but two.

Ibushi:  I believe so. It has to be both.

SANADA: One.

Ibushi: One.

SANADA: Two.

Ibushi: Two.

SANADA: Those two titles.

Ibushi: These exact titles, the two of them. Look at them.

SANADA: (Looking) One.

Ibushi: One.

SANADA: Two.

Ibushi: Two.

SANADA: Both titles will be on the line.

Ibushi: Without question. Each of these titles will be on the line.

SANADA: We are going to have a wrestling contest for those championships.

Ibushi: Yes, we absolutely will have a wrestling match for these championships.

SANADA: I am the person that deserves the next title shot.

Ibushi: I agree. You are the most worthy contender.

SANADA: Ok, great. See you then. I won’t be reachable by phone. Ja ne.

After this long tour, the instant evacuation of the ring area by these four feels unfortunately appropriate. SANADA bailing first is, unfortunately, a poetically fitting denouement. And yet, everything we saw in the thirty minutes between the bells suggests that we are in for two spectacular main events to close this run. ***1/2

FINAL THOUGHTS

With a well-structured main event, an engaged crowd, and a number of intriguing developments, the New Beginning tour finished strong. The final Road To show of the New Beginning campaign was one of the strongest. This is well worth watching before the big events. You can pretty much skip the tour and just watch this show, along with the 2/1 and 2/2 elimination tag main events.