New Japan Pro Wrestling
Battle Autumn ’22
November 5, 2022
Edion Arena Osaka
Osaka, Japan

Watch: NJPWWorld

The leaves are falling, football is dominating the ratings, and pumpkin spice is everywhere. That’s right, baby, it’s autumn and it’s time for some battlin’. New Japan hits Edion Arena Osaka for one of its final major shows of the year before 2023 and Wrestle Kingdom 17 roll around, and while this is still a clap crowd event, EAO has built up a reputation as a crowd that is most likely to get excited and break the rules on vocal noises. Add in a good looking card and we’ve got a recipe for a fun night of action. Let’s get to it!

IWGP Jr. Tag Team Championship: Catch 2/2 (Francesco Akira & TJP) © def. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI & Titan)

This wasn’t a long opener, a little over 11 minutes, but neither team let any of those minutes go to waste. This match was fast-paced action from start to finish, a throwback of sorts to the era of Jr. Tag Title openers between teams like the Young Bucks, reDRagon, Roppongi Vice, etc. And like those teams, the intra-duo chemistry on both sides was very apparent. Catch 2/2 have become one of my favorite new teams, with lots of fun double-team moves and a real smoothness to their work. BUSHI & Titan are also very impressive with their cohesion despite only being a team for just a few weeks.

TJP & Akira hit BUSHI with their new signature combo the 2/2, a double running knees attack (the number 2 in Japanese is ni, get it?), but Titan broke up the count. They then took out Titan with a Final Cut/Diving Double Stomp combo, then hit BUSHI with the Leaning Tower to score the win. A frenetic, fun, and action-packed way to start the show. Great stuff. ****

United Empire (Aaron Henare, Kyle Fletcher, Mark Davis, & Lord Gideon Grey) def. Hiroshi Tanahashi, David Finlay, Toru Yano, & Alex Zayne

“The Orchestrator” Lord Gideon Grey did English introductions for the United Empire team, and would do so for the remaining UE matches on the show. I love Gideon, and I’m so glad he’s crossed over to New Japan from RevPro. I also love Kevin Kelly describing him as looking like “he’s spent a couple days floating facefirst down the River Thames.”

This was a fun little undercard match, but there wasn’t a whole lot to it beyond serving as an introduction to the live fans for Aussie Open, who are making their Japanese debut. Memory serves they were supposed to debut at World Tag League 2019 before Davis injured his leg, then the pandemic kept them from making any trips over. But they’re here now, having improved a ton since their New Japan debuts at the first Royal Quest in London. They took center stage during the second half of the match, though they refrained from showing off all their stuff. In the end they hit Yano with Corealis and scored the win. They are definitely the heavy favorites to win World Tag League, especially given the result of the semi-main. Congrats to Aussie Open for a successful Japanese debut, and congrats to Gideon Grey for not eating the pin. ***

Hikuleo (w/ Jado) def. Yujiro Takahashi (w/ SHO & Pieter)

Hikuleo was originally scheduled to face Karl Anderson for the NEVER Openweight Title, but things got a bit wonky (to say the least) after Karl signed with WWE, who promptly booked him on their latest Saudi Arabia sportswashing blood money event that just so happened to take place on the same day as this show. New Japan ultimately canceled the title match and replaced it with this one. There’s been a lot of ire directed at both Karl and New Japan for this whole situation, which is understandable. On the one hand, it’s not cool to sign with a major company before dropping another major company’s title, and Anderson’s lackluster performance against Hiroshi Tanahashi at Declaration of Power in October didn’t win him any favors either. On the other hand, it’s pretty stupid to put a title on a guy who is not locked into a contract. I don’t care how firm that handshake deal is, you put a giant bag of money in front of a pro wrestler — especially freaking Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows — chances are they’re gonna take the money.

Karl and New Japan are trying to make the best of it by turning this thing into a storyline. As Flagship Patreon reported, New Japan actually announced Anderson vs. Hikuleo after knowing that Anderson was signing with WWE. This was to give New Japan a kayfabe reasoning for stripping Karl of the title (since NJPW champions are stripped when they cannot make a scheduled defense). They’ve tried to work out a new date for Anderson to wrestle Hikuleo, which is why Karl cut a promo on Twitter saying he wouldn’t show up at Battle Autumn and would only defend the title when the lights are bright enough. Hikuleo also said he would wait for Karl to show up. If they couldn’t get a new date, they’d strip Karl for not making Battle Autumn and that would be it, but since New Japan canceled the match outright, I can only guess that they’ve got or are close to getting that new date, whenever it may be. Is it all dumb? Yes. Is it still a better look than New Japan going “Hey, one of our champions signed a big fat contract elsewhere, so we’re stripping him, whoopsy daisy!” Also yes.

Anyway, House of Torture attacked Hikuleo before the bell. Hikuleo fought them off, the match started, and he squashed Yujiro like a bug with a chokeslam in 30 seconds. It keeps Hikuleo looking strong and a Yujiro singles match from actually happening, so a win-win all around. N/R

NJPW World Television Championship Tournament Semi-Final: Ren Narita def. SANADA

If you haven’t boarded the “Son of Strong Style” Ren Narita train, do it now before you’re left standing at the station. This guy rules. He’s a young, no-nonsense ass kicker in black trunks and boots, which is a rarity in New Japan these days. Everyone and their mother has made the obvious Katsuyori Shibata comparisons, but if you’re gonna model yourself after someone, you can’t do much better than Shibata. He’s also 24, which gives him plenty of time to eventually grow out of just being a Shibata clone.

This was a very good match, though it didn’t reach the heights of Narita’s incredible battle against Tomohiro Ishii in the opening round. Narita and SANADA meshed really well, and while I know SANADA can be a polarizing wrestler, I think he’s improved enough in the past year or so where his “Sloppy SANADA” reputation feels like old hat. SANADA showed a lot of dominance in the first half, including a piledriver to Narita on the floor, but Narita fought back with some strikes and submissions. As the clock counted down, the pace and the intensity quickened a lot, which is a big benefit to these 15-minute time limit matches. Speaking of which, this was another SANADA tournament match that ended perilously close to the time limit. SANADA went for a discus elbow, but Narita caught him with the Narita Special #4 for the win with only 30 seconds left on the clock. Beating three established heavyweight veterans—Ishii, Yano, and SANADA—in your first singles matches back from excursion is a big sign that Narita is going places in this company, and if he wins the TV Title at Wrestle Kingdom, then it’s off to the races for sure. ***¾ 

NJPW World Television Championship Tournament Semi-Final: Zack Sabre Jr. def. EVIL (w/ Dick Togo)

Young Lion Kosei Fujita, who had dressed up like ZSJ to fool EVIL and help Zack get a very quick win during the G1 Climax, cut Zack’s pre-taped promo while Zack whispered it to him from off-screen: “Hello, I am Zack Sabre Jr. I am from England. I like marmite. EVIL, you are pumpkinhead wanker. Happy Halloween, dickhead.” EVIL and Togo dragged Fujita (who was again dressed like Zack) out to the ring to stop any shenanigans this time, but when Zack’s music hit, Young Lion Ryohei Oiwa came out dressed like ZSJ (including a hat that said “I am also ZSJ”). This allowed Zack to come from behind EVIL to try to score another fast victory, but this time EVIL kicked out. Zack managed to counteract all of EVIL and Togo’s shenanigans (with a little help from his Young Lion pals) and pin EVIL with a Ground Cobra Twist in just about five minutes to advance to the finals. He scurried to the back with Fujita and Oiwa in tow. I was thoroughly sports entertained by all of this. It helped that it was neat and tidy. The result sets up an awesome looking final between ZSJ and Narita at Wrestle Kingdom, and frees up EVIL to defend the NEVER 6-Man Titles with SHO and Yujiro against whomever. ***

Incredible Tag Match: El Desperado & Master Wato def. Hiromu Takahashi & Taiji Ishimori

The name of this match has gotten some chuckles, but it’s actually a reference to parejas increibles, a lucha libre stipulation where babyfaces team up with heels against other babyfaces and heels. We would normally never see babyface LIJ Hiromu and heel Bullet Club Ishimori team up against babyface Hontai Master Wato and heel(ish) Suzuki-gun El Desperado, so this match is, quite literally, incredible. It’s all to build up the four-way match for Ishimori’s Jr. Title at Wrestle Kingdom.

The “Can they co-exist?” tag team partners trope has been done to death by WWE, but all four guys did an excellent job playing up the animosity between them throughout the entire match. Desperado and Wato were constantly at each other’s throats, at times even slapping the other guy in the face to tag into the match. Meanwhile Ishimori kept refusing to tag in, letting Hiromu get beaten down. Hiromu finally tagged in Ishimori, but then he immediately beat Ishimori up and tried to pin him. The match definitely felt like it had turned into a four-way towards the end, which was the point because all four guys aren’t supposed to get along. Finally, it looked like Hiromu and Ishimori would put aside their differences enough to score the win, but when Hiromu picked Wato up for the Time Bomb, Ishimori hit a jumping knee to Hiromu’s face, which caused him to fall over and give Wato the pin. I was pretty cold on this match and the general idea of the four-way going in, but the match was so engaging and all four guys played their roles so well that I ended up really enjoying it. You could tell the crowd were into it too. ***¾ 

Kazuchika Okada & Tama Tonga (w/ Jado) def. Jay White & KENTA (w/ Gedo)

Another Wrestle Kingdom preview match, this time for the main event between Okada and White for the IWGP World Heavyweight Title. It’s not a match I’m super excited about. They’ve had great matches before, and this upcoming one will probably be great too, but I’m not really salivating for it.

This was pretty standard stuff. They kept the Okada-White interactions to a minimum to tease the singles match, giving much of the attention to Tama Tonga and KENTA. I have no idea what either of those guys are gonna do at Wrestle Kingdom. The Tama babyface singles push this year was a big success as he’s not only gotten over with the fans, but has improved in the ring too. I thought we would get a rematch with him and Karl Anderson for the NEVER Title at the Dome where Tama would win that belt back, but that looks like it’s not gonna happen for obvious reasons. As for KENTA, he still gets his big spots, but at this point he’s being held together by duct tape. If they’re ever gonna do that Shibata match, it has to be sooner rather than later, but who knows if it will ever happen given New Japan’s seeming reluctance to book Shibata in matches. I hope it does. Tama pinned KENTA with the Gun Stun to win it for his team. ***¼

IWGP Tag Team Championship: FTR (Dax Harwood & Cash Wheeler) © def. United Empire (Great-O-Khan & Jeff Cobb) (w/ Lord Gideon Grey)

This was FTR’s second defense of the IWGP Tag Team Titles overall and the first to happen in Japan. I’ll be honest, it was pretty strange to see FTR’s music hit and not immediately hear massive cheers, but such is the way with clap crowds. They got an okay reception when they came out, but it did feel like the crowd got more and more into them as the match went on. O-Khan & Cobb were accompanied to the ring by Japanese newscaster and TV host Seiji Miyane, who wore a United Empire shirt.

The match didn’t have the big fight feel that FTR’s matches with the Briscoes or Aussie Open had (and didn’t go nearly as long either); it was more like a great TV match they would have on Dynamite. I don’t say that as a detriment because I love that kind of match, and you need to have those matches in between the epics to make those epics feel, well, epic. Dax played Ricky Morton for the heat segment, then made the hot tag to Cash and that’s when things kicked up a notch. At one point, FTR hit Cobb with a Steinerizer (elevated bulldog) and Cobb landed awkwardly on his leg. O-Khan had to drag Cobb to their corner to make the tag. Cobb didn’t do much in the match from then on, but when he did, he was always favoring the leg (which has plagued him before). This left O-Khan to valiantly fight on his own. He was the highlight during this portion of the match as a hard-hitting bastard who wouldn’t go down easy, including a strike exchange with Dax where they laid into each other with heavy shots. It was also during these final minutes that the crowd were really into the action. O-Khan went for the Eliminator on Cash, but he escaped, got the blind tag to Dax, and they hit the Big Rig for the win.

This match rocked. I would put it on the lower end of the great FTR matches this year, but I enjoyed the hell out of it and  wouldn’t mind seeing a rematch somewhere down the line, though it might be a while. During the post-match promos, O-Khan lamented Cobb’s injury and Henare stepped up as his new partner for World Tag League. While giving their victory speech, FTR were confronted by Aussie Open, so all signs point to Aussie Open winning WTL and challenging FTR for the tag belts at Wrestle Kingdom in the Royal Quest II rematch. ****

IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship: Will Ospreay © (w/ Lord Gideon Grey) def. Tetsuya Naito

Ospreay’s motivation for this match and his US Title reign on the whole is to raise the prestige of the belt, which has traveled a rocky road throughout the year with multiple vacancies and quick title changes. With his outstanding title matches against Orange Cassidy at Forbidden Door in June, David Finlay at Burning Spirit in September, and now Tetsuya Naito, he’s succeeding. Anyone who knows me or follows me on Twitter knows that Ospreay is my favorite wrestler going today. His resume of matches this year has made him the best in-ring wrestler of 2022 in my opinion, and he’s had my match of the year for three out of the past four years. I’m confident that I could make a top ten MOTY list with only Will Ospreay matches and it would not seem egregious.

If I did make such a list, there’s a really good chance this match would be on it because holy hell this was spectacular. It was a rematch of another spectacular match that Ospreay and Naito had in the G1 semi-finals in August. What this second match had though was an extra bit of intensity. Ospreay always brings the intensity in his matches these days because he hits like a truck, but Naito played a big part in it as well. He viciously targeted Ospreay’s neck throughout the match, landing big elbow strikes and assorted neckbreakers. Ospreay sold it very well too, not just with his neck but with the secondary effects on his left arm. The only weird part of the match was Naito’s bump for the OsCutter. There were two OsCutters, one off the guardrail on the outside, the other inside the ring, and both times Naito took the bump onto his back instead of falling forwards like a typical cutter bump. It stood out to me, especially since it happened twice. I went back and skimmed through their G1 match and Ospreay did not hit the OsCutter in that one, so unfortunately I can’t establish a bump pattern between the two matches.

The match took longer to kick into high gear than the G1 match, but once it did, it did not let up. Naito has that same kind of chemistry with Ospreay that he has with Ibushi, where they can pull off these crazy spots with heart-in-mouth danger and suspense. For example, Ospreay had Naito in an electric chair position on the middle rope, then Naito spun around and hit an unclean hurricanrana. It looked cool and scary all at once. Then Naito went for the Running Destino, but Ospreay caught him and lifted him up into a sitout powerbomb that made me jump out of my seat. Later on, Naito countered a Stormbreaker with a Destino, but Ospreay kicked out at 2.9. I was standing and pacing at this point. Ospreay countered another Destino with a pop-up elbow, a Hidden Blade to the face, then a Hidden Blade to the back of Naito’s head, but that only got 2. Ospreay finally hit the Stormbreaker to put Naito away. “I am so fucking good,” Ospreay said into the camera a few minutes later. I can’t argue with that.

My first instinct was that I preferred the G1 match slightly more than this one, but after rewatching it and writing this review, I’m honestly not so sure anymore. I mean this was really, really, REALLY great. New Japan has gotten a lot of flak over the past couple years for various reasons, but they can still deliver high-level wrestling matches better than anyone, clap crowds or no. Of course it helps when you have Will Ospreay and Tetsuya Naito, two of the best wrestlers on the planet; one is a hall of fame level talent before he’s reached the age of 30, the other is on the WON HOF ballot now and should be a slam dunk candidate given his match resume and the fact that he’s been one of Japan’s biggest wrestling stars for several years. Like the first match, this will end up on a fair share of top ten lists. I can’t say right now if it will make mine because I’ve seen a lot of truly excellent matches this year (again, many of which include Will Ospreay), but I wouldn’t be mad if this scored high amongst the VOW voters because it’s without a doubt a must-watch match. ****¾

Afterwards, Ospreay made an open challenge for the US Title at the NJPW/STARDOM Historic X-Over show on November 20. No one answered, so Ospreay started to leave the ring when the lights went out. A video started playing showing someone riding a motorcycle and the word “Roughneck.” Then the video displayed a name: Shota Umino. The crowd gasped as Umino came down the ramp in his white jacket and pants, carrying Jon Moxley’s Death Rider jacket. He must have had an extra bit of Tanahashi genes injected into his bone marrow because he looked so much more like him than usual; he even had a bit of that Tanahashi strut to the way he walked. Umino got the mic, but before he said a word, he decked Ospreay, dispatched Aussie Open and Gideon Grey, hit Will with the Death Rider, and held up the US Title. He is now back from excursion as “The Roughneck” Shota Umino and will challenge Ospreay at Historic X-Over. Ospreay beat Umino at Royal Quest II via referee stoppage (Umino’s dad Red Shoes was the ref), so there’s already a larger story built into this. It’s great to see Umino back from excursion and in a prominent position; it feels like him, Narita, and eventually Tsuji and Uemura will make a big impact in this company moving forward. The “Roughneck” nickname is a bit weird considering he looks more like a cover model than a surly bar fighter, but they’re clearly going for a similar vibe as Mox’s “Death Rider” nickname given their relationship, and his aggressive demeanor tonight lined up with that too.

Final Thoughts

This was an awesome show, easily one of the best that New Japan has had this year and of the entire pandemic era. The main event will get a lot of the hype, but I would recommend just watching the whole show from start to finish because it was an easy watch and had some really good matches all throughout the card. Seeing new blood like Umino, Narita, and Aussie Open get the spotlight was cool as well. It was also a well-paced show. Even at four hours, only a handful of matches went over 15 minutes, and only the main event went over 20. Two big thumbs up.