The New Beginning In Sapporo 2023 Night 2
February 5, 2023
Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center
Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

February is one of my favorite months out of the whole year. Not only is it the month I was born in (my birthday is in a few days, as I type this), and the month that the NASCAR season kicks off, but it’s also when the bulk of the major shows on New Japan’s New Beginning Tour take place. Outside of some of the major tournaments (G1 Climax, Best of the Super Juniors), the New Beginning Tour is one of my favorite tours of the year for New Japan. It’s always filled with fresh directions following the aftermath of Wrestle Kingdom, and it helps set the stage for the rest of the year to come.

The first night of this double shot in Sapporo saw a pair of matchups between the United Empire and the (lazily named) Just 4 Guys stable, while Tetsuya Naito battled the upstart Shota Umino in a very lengthy main event. For this second night in Sapporo, it was TMDK’s time to shine, as they were taking part in a pair of title bouts. Meanwhile, the main event would see Hiromu Takahashi make his first defense of the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title since winning the title back at Wrestle Kingdom last month. Before diving into those main matches, let’s take a look at what went down on the undercard.

– United Empire (Will Ospreay, Great O-Khan, Francesco Akira, & TJP) def. Just 4 Guys (Taichi, DOUKI, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, & TAKA Michinoku)
– Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado, Ren Narita, & Yuto Nakashima def. House Of Torture (EVIL, SHO, Yujiro Takahashi, & Dick Togo)
– Bullet Club (KENTA & Taiji Ishimori) def. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Master Wato
– G.O.D. (Tama Tonga, Hikuleo, & Jado) def. Bullet Club (Jay White, El Phantasmo, & Gedo)
– CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada & Toru Yano), Shota Umino, & Ryusuke Taguchi def. LIJ (Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi, SANADA, & BUSHI)

In terms of match quality, I would say the opener with United Empire and Just 4 Guys was the best of the bunch. The rest of them were your typical New Japan undercard tags that you get on every single show (If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all). Aside from that opener (which featured participants from the big matches the night before), the rest of the undercard tags did have moments that served to build up the remaining big matches on the tour. Ren Narita shook hands with and hugged both Minoru Suzuki and El Desperado after their match, with Suzuki issuing the challenge for the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Titles. KENTA and Hiroshi Tanahashi brawled after their tag team bout. Jay White (who made his entrance wearing the Jay Briscoe tribute shirt) got chased off by Hikuleo while El Phantasmo hit Tama Tonga with the NEVER Openweight Title. Finally, Naito and Umino went at it again in the last multi-person tag while Okada and Shingo had some decent exchanges to build up their upcoming IWGP World Heavyweight Title bout.

The only other person I want to talk about from the undercard is SANADA. I thought it was very interesting that, in that aforementioned Eight-Man Tag, Okada scored the victory for his side after pinning SANADA clean as a sheet in the middle of the ring with a Rainmaker. The fact that SANADA ate that pin when BUSHI was right there was very… telling, in my view. It could end up meaning nothing, but it’s still very shocking to see that match end the way it did.

IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Bishamon (Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI) © def. TMDK (Shane Haste & Mikey Nicholls)

Hirooki Goto doesn’t exactly have a great history with the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles, in terms of successful defenses. His first title reign in 2015, alongside Katsuyori Shibata, was cut short on the first defense as Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows regained the titles. His second reign, which was his first with YOSHI-HASHI as part of Bishamon, had just one successful title defense before the duo from CHAOS lost the belts to Jeff Cobb and Great O-Khan from United Empire. Bishamon came into this show looking to stave off the challenge from a reinvigorated TMDK, who recently welcomed Zack Sabre Jr. into their ranks. It certainly didn’t seem like Goto and YOSHI-HASHI were favored coming into this contest, but when the dust settled, they managed to retain their titles after connecting with Shoto in just over fifteen minutes.

This was a really good tag team encounter, though it just fell shy of being great. Some solid action in the first half, as Bishamon had the early advantage before TMDK isolated Goto. The pace picked up once Goto was able to tag in YOSHI-HASHI, and there were some very nice exchanges and nearfalls before the finish. The crowd definitely came alive in the closing stretch, and TMDK nearly had the titles won on a few occasions. It is a little surprising that they didn’t give Haste and Nicholls the titles, since TMDK just got this refresh with Zack Sabre Jr. coming aboard. However, I don’t think anyone will complain about Bishamon keeping the belts at the end of the day, as they’ve been a really strong anchor of the heavyweight tag team division over the last year and change (even longer if you include their run as NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Champions alongside Tomohiro Ishii). We got some sportsmanship after the bout as the two teams shared some fistbumps, and we’ll see if Bishamon can make it beyond a second title defense. ***3/4

NJPW World Television Championship: Zack Sabre Jr. © def. Tomohiro Ishii

This is Zack Sabre Jr.’s first defense of the NJPW World Television Title after becoming the inaugural champion at Wrestle Kingdom 17 last month. His first challenger is someone Zack is very familiar with in Tomohiro Ishii. It was noted on the English Commentary that these two are 3-3 in singles meetings coming into this match, so the winner would take the overall lead.

One thing you’ll hear people talk about a lot, as it pertains to Tomohiro Ishii, is how all of his opponents will ultimately end up working the “Ishii style” whenever they’re in the ring with him (if you’ve watched New Japan long enough, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about). Well, for at least 75% of this match–if not more–Ishii was working the Zack Sabre Jr. style of match! Right out of the gate, Ishii surprised Zack with early attempts at an armbar and a leg submission. Zack would respond by going after Ishii with his traditional offense, while Ishii fired back with limb work of his own, as at one point, he hit a lariat to the arm of Zack. The action would intensify in the second half as the bout turned into more of a mix of an Ishii match and a Zack match. Ishii would close out one exchange with an explosive pounce (somewhere, Monty Brown is smiling) and followed that up by hitting Zack with a freaking Code Red!! That was the highlight moment of the match for me. The crowd was loving all of this, and their reaction got even louder as they got closer to the fifteen minute time limit.

We would be treated to more quick exchanges and super close nearfalls between the two as they got closer to the fifteen minute mark, and finally, with just under thirty seconds to spare, Zack hoisted Ishii up and hit the Zack Driver to retain his title. This was an excellent match from start to finish. Ishii trying to play Zack’s game was definitely an odd sight at first, but that story grew on me quickly, and once this bout really got going, it was just awesome to watch. I still can’t get over Ishii doing that Code Red spot! An excellent first title defense from Zack, while Ishii put forth another great performance, as he always does. It should be interesting to see who steps up to the plate next to challenge for this brand new championship. ****1/4

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi © def. YOH

Hiromu Takahashi’s victory at Wrestle Kingdom 17 kicked off his fifth reign as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion. His first title defense headlined this second night of action in Sapporo, as he battled YOH, who came up just short of capturing the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles at Wrestle Kingdom 17 alongside Lio Rush. Hiromu and YOH have had four previous singles encounters coming into this main event, with YOH only winning one of those four matches (he beat Hiromu during last year’s Best of the Super Juniors Tournament).

While the result of this main event was pretty much a forgone conclusion (nobody was expecting a title change here), these two still put together an excellent match with strong back-and-forth action throughout. Hiromu would control things in the early going, especially after they spilled out to the floor. YOH would get sent into the barricades a couple of times before Hiromu gave him a suplex on the entranceway. After barely beating the twenty count, YOH would finally manage to fight back, and delivered his first big blow of the match in the form of a big dive onto Hiromu on the floor. From there, YOH would spend time working over Hiromu’s leg, utilizing Dragon Screws as well as a Figure Four Leglock. Hiromu would eventually fight out, which led to a great final few minutes of the match. The two would trade some big lariats, and did their best to avoid each other’s finishers (YOH would kick out of the Time Bomb, which forced Hiromu to try for Time Bomb 2). While YOH would come close on a number of nearfalls, it wouldn’t be enough to win the title, as Hiromu put him away following a series of lariats and Time Bomb 2 to secure the win. I thought this was an incredible main event, though I have the feeling some might like a smidge more than me (mainly referring to the star rating I’ll list in a moment). Hiromu was awesome, as per usual, while YOH had one of his better singles outings in quite some time. Again, I don’t think anybody was expecting YOH to come out on top in this one, but they both did a very solid job making you think a title change was possible. Hiromu picks up his first successful title defense as he now sets his sights on his upcoming All-Star Junior Festival. ****1/4

Final Thoughts

The success of this card from a quality standpoint was really going to ride on the final three matches, given that the other five were all undercard tags. Well, those three title bouts delivered to varying degrees, so I can say that this second night in Sapporo wound up being a pretty solid success. Bishamon vs. TMDK was very good, while both Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tomohiro Ishii and Hiromu Takahashi vs. YOH were great. If you skip all of those undercard tags (you really don’t have any reason to watch them unless you’re a completist), then you can get through all three title matches in just under a hundred minutes, which makes for a fairly easy watch.