FEBRUARY 11, 2023

Watch: NJPW World

The final night of the New Beginning tour was a night of high-level action and of big shifts in the New Japan landscape. Three title matches, two special singles matches, and one man having to leave Japan for good. With New Japan Cup just around the corner, let’s take a look at where things shook out.


  • Great O-Khan & Aaron Henare def. Toru Yano & Oskar Leube
  • Tetsuya Naito, Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA, & BUSHI def. Shota Umino, Ryusuke Taguchi, Tiger Mask, & Tomoaki Honma – After the match, Lio Rush (via video screen) challenged Hiromu to a future Jr. Title match.


The start of the business end of the card saw hometown hero Master Wato fall to former Jr. Champion Ishimori in a quality match. These non-title singles matches don’t come around too often for the junior heavyweights, so these two made the most of their time with good performances. Ishimori targeted the shoulder of Wato to set up the Bone Lock, but Wato survived the hold by getting to the ropes. Wato fired back with the high-arcing German suplex, called the Tsutenkaku German, for a nearfall. He could never get the Recientemente that took Ishimori out at Wrestle Kingdom, and after a heavy lariat, Ishimori landed the Bloody Cross for the win. After a few years in the wilderness, Wato seems to have found his confidence and has strung together a couple of good performances in big spots. It wouldn’t shock me if he was a key player in Super Juniors this year, but before that comes Hiromu’s big All-Star Junior Festival at Korakuen on March 1. ***3/4


This was two veteran stars using their veteran star status to compensate for their physical decline. There’s no point in pretending this match was what it could have been in 2009 or even 2019, but it was a good enough match for the spot on the card they were in. My expectation was for KENTA to win considering his STRONG Openweight Title match at Battle In The Valley next Saturday, but instead, Tanahashi countered a Go To Sleep into a Slingblade before hitting the High Fly Flow for the win. The result would make more sense later in the show. Nothing you need to skip, but nothing you need to rush to see. ***1/2


One of the biggest losers of Pandemic-era pro wrestling was EVIL. EVIL was a few weeks away from the major push he had been waiting years for. He would split off from LIJ, become the leader of his own unit, and feud with Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP Heavyweight Title for the rest of the year. After years of working in the undercards and in the shadows, EVIL would get the chance to be in the spotlight.

Then, COVID happened. His turn, while still a massive surprise, came to government-mandated silence. His title reign was marred by rules that cut him and his new unit off at the knees, removing the heat that they were meant to garner. While I would never be a fan of the interference-laden main events that EVIL had, they would have been much more tolerable with fans booing as intended. Three years after the fact, the House of Torture finally got the heat they craved. But it now comes with a legacy tied to their ankles like an anchor. A legacy of a failed main-event push, a legacy of the worst-received main events in modern New Japan history, and a legacy of being blamed for the downfall of New Japan in the eyes of the world. And that’s a shame because when they do get their heat, the House of Torture is fine.

Cheating heel units are a hallmark of the Bushiroad-era of New Japan. They are no worse than Suzuki-gun or Bullet Club at their most annoying. The only difference is that House of Torture did it when pro wrestling was fundamentally broken. They’re the cheating heel unit of the day for New Japan, and they handle that position well.

The House jumped the babyfaces at the bell with the title belts that they conveniently found after claiming they were retired. What followed was a fun, energetic six-man tag that saw Desperado and Suzuki get worked over before Narita made the big hot tag. Narita got the tapout on Yujiro, but Dick Togo distracted the referee. I thought maybe this would lead to the House retaining the titles for another day, but after Despy and Suzuki got the other two in submissions, Narita got Yujiro to tap out to the Cobra Twist for a second time to win the titles. After the fall, the new champs embraced before Suzuki gave the group their new team name: Strong Style. This is a great use of Suzuki and Desperado, and a good spotlight for Narita after falling in the TV Title tournament. ***1/2


It’s a little late for Jay to make the Royal Rumble, but he still found himself on the wrong side of this result. Jay White made his New Japan debut just over eight years ago as a young lion, losing to Alex Shelley on the January 30th Road To New Beginning show in Tokorozawa, Saitama. As a part of the heralded 2015 Young Lion class that saw SHO, YOH, Juice Robinson, Master Wato, and David Finlay come out of it, White was the man everyone pegged as the can’t-miss star of the group. After an excursion to Ring of Honor that saw him have great matches with the likes of Punishment Martinez and Will Ospreay, Jay White returned to New Japan in one of the biggest spots possible: across from Hiroshi Tanahashi at the Tokyo Dome for Wrestle Kingdom 12. But the baby-faced greenhorn that left Japan came back with a much darker edge. The Switchblade was born.

While the last year of White’s New Japan career has soured some fans on him, his five-year run in New Japan had some unbelievable highs. To list a few:

  • The stunning US Title win over Kenny Omega
  • The fantastic US Title loss to Juice Robinson in San Francisco
  • The turn on Kazuchika Okada and CHAOS that came before the awesome Wrestle Kingdom 13 sprint
  • Main eventing Madison Square Garden with Okada for the IWGP Title
  • The incredible Kota Ibushi matches in the 2019 G1 Final and the 2021 Wrestle Kingdom main event

Switchblade Jay White was a part of several incredible moments in New Japan history. But with those peaks came several valleys that saw White become a chore to watch. To list a few:

  • The aforementioned Tanahashi return match, a style clash that never won over the crowd
  • The “third place match” against Ibushi at the 2020 Wrestle Kingdom, a match that foreshadowed the clap-crowd atmosphere we would be stuck in two months later
  • Cutting an incredible, energizing promo after losing to Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom teasing a character shift, only to return a month later having changed nothing
  • The absentee NEVER Title reign of 2021
  • The nearly non-existent build to the 2023 Wrestle Kingdom main event, a build that ended with White saying he would flush Okada’s legacy “like poopy down the toilet”

Jay White bounced from fantastic to frustrating frequently in his time in Japan, and while the highs were incredible, saying goodbye here may be the best call for all parties. He had done everything there was to do in New Japan proper, and without a character shift in the cards, it was time for him to bow out.

He went out on a high with this match. After Hikuleo controlled early, White tried to chop him down at the legs, repeatedly chop blocking both of his knees to take the big man down. Hikuleo kept kicking out of White’s nearfall moves at one, so White got desperate. He used a chair while Gedo took the referee. He kept going after Hikuleo’s knees. He hit a low blow after Hikuleo landed his big powerslam. White hit the Blade Runner as a counter to a second powerslam, but Hikuleo rolled to his side to avoid the pin. Hikuleo goozled his way out of a second Blade Runner and hit a giant Last Ride for a nearfall. Hikuleo got White by the throat again. White, accepting his fate, threw up one last Too Sweet. Hikuleo obliged, then hit the big chokeslam to win and book Jay White a one-way ticket to the US.

After the odd embrace with Okada at Wrestle Kingdom, the Too Sweet of Doom for Hikuleo, and a post-match fist bump to Tanahashi on commentary, it looked like White was coming to terms with his past rivals before saying goodbye. The Japanese crowd gave him an ovation as Gedo helped him to the back. The Switchblade Era has come to an end. ****


As the leader of Bullet Club exited stage left, all signs pointed to El Phantasmo taking the reigns and assuming control. He’s been long rumored to be in line for a major push in New Japan, and with his recent jump to heavyweight, this seemed like the ideal time to pull the trigger. But it was not to be on this night, as Tama Tonga won a war of attrition to score his first defense of the NEVER Openweight Title.

The pre-match video set this up as a battle of finishers. Who could get their big shot off first? Would it be Tama Tonga and the Gun Stun, or ELP and the Sudden Death superkick? As it turned out, both men would end up surviving the other’s big shots. ELP had hurt his knee on the big moonsault to the floor, leading to Tonga working on the knee with dragon screws. Both men dug deep into the Bullet Club playbook, with Phantasmo scoring a nearfall with the Styles Clash and Tama Tonga hitting the Bloody Sunday before Phantasmo hit a weakened Sudden Death for a nearfall. Phantasmo countered the Gun Stun into the CR-II for another close nearfall, but Tama Tonga countered a second Sudden Death with the Gun Stun. ELP kicked out to the shock of the crowd, so Tama Tonga used the DSD, more commonly known as the Jay Driller, for the win.

This was an awesome match. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Sincere, New Japan Army babyface Tama Tonga is great. After years of him looking the part and having that potential, he feels like he’s finally realizing that potential and becoming the star New Japan fans believed he could be. Phantasmo was great here too, giving as well as he got in this one. Thumbs up for this one. ****1/4


This was the fifth meeting between these men. The third for the IWGP World Title, the third in Osaka, but the first with vocal crowd noise. What a difference that noise made, only enhancing this incredible battle between these two all-time greats. At the press conference the night before, Okada requested that the Osaka crowd fully get behind Shingo for this match. The crowd obliged, giving full-throated support to Shingo as the match went on.

This was everything you would expect from these two. Shingo laid the heavy shots in early, opening up a wound on Okada’s back after hard whips into the barricades before dropping him with a DVD on the floor. A few minutes later, Shingo went for the same combination before Okada dropped him with a Tombstone on the outside, hearkening back to the Rainmaker Shock of nearly 11 years ago. Okada went through his finishing sequence, lining up Shingo for a Rainmaker. But Shingo beat him to the punch with a massive lariat of his own.

After that, this match was the equivalent of a Big 12 Title game. Offense at an unbelievable pace, last one with the ball wins. These two emptied the tanks throwing bomb after bomb at each other, leaving nothing to chance. Okada got a Rainmaker off, but couldn’t make a cover. He crawled to Shingo with a demonic look in his eyes ready to drop him again, but after a run of reversals, Shingo caught Okada with a Last of the Dragon to a thunderous reaction for a nearfall. Okada caught Shingo with an enzuigiri, and after one final Shingo flurry, Okada dropped him with the Cobra Flowsion and a second Rainmaker to win an incredible battle. The New Japan World Title match main event that you know, you love, and you’ve missed after three years. An incredible battle. ****3/4

After the match, Okada made a challenge for Battle in the Valley. His challenge was to the man on Japanese commentary, the man who beat KENTA earlier in the night, and the man who may go down as his greatest rival. At Battle in the Valley, it will be Okada vs. Tanahashi in a showcase of one of New Japan’s greatest rivalries. An excellent choice for a match that can still sell PPVs while not being burnt on an already sold-out show.