Many people think of 2019 as the year that Will Ospreay took off, and it’s hard to argue, but what if I told you that it actually started just in the middle of December in Korakuen Hall just three weeks earlier?

Five years ago today, New Japan had the last night of Road To Tokyo Dome 2018 tour in Korakuen Hall with a main event of The Golden Lovers vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Will Ospreay.

You wouldn’t have to think too hard to land on this as the last match going into Wrestle Kingdom. The Golden Lovers are both defending their singles championships at the Dome. Why not just do a tag against their challengers? Despite its simplicity, this is great booking. Not only is Tanahashi challenging Omega for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on January 4, he beat Kota Ibushi to win the Tokyo Dome title challenge. Will Ospreay is walking the same path that the Golden Lovers did as a junior heavyweight trying to prove himself.

Before the match, Ospreay almost seems out of place. A junior heavyweight in a match with the two G1 finalists and the IWGP Heavyweight champion. He looks a little nervous making his way to the ring. He holds the ropes open for Tanahashi, showing his respect for the legend while at the same time conveying that he’s somewhat starstruck by his partner. Whether intentional or not, the entrances to this match make you question if Ospreay is ready for the moment, and it draws you in perfectly to a match that was tailor-made to show that Will Ospreay belongs.

The match starts with an Ospreay and Ibushi sequence that ends in a stalemate before they tag out. Tanahashi then takes control over Omega before tagging out to Ospreay, who the Golden Lovers bully until he can make it back to his corner to tag in The Ace. Tanahashi himself then loses control as Omega and Ibushi wear him down with double-team offense before Ospreay can make the save with a sunset flip powerbomb, sending Ibushi on top of a crouched Omega. This allows Tanahashi to gain enough momentum to tag in Ospreay while Omega tags Ibushi. After Ibushi stuns Ospreay, he tags in Omega who takes out Tanahashi before going to pick up the pieces with Ospreay. Ospreay counters a suplex into a stunner and moves to the empty corner where his partner was moments ago. He’s on his own with the IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Ospreay eats a V Trigger before hitting a running Spanish Fly and a Robinson Special. Ospreay has Omega dead to rights before Ibushi cuts him off on the top rope before hitting a hurricanrana, but Ospreay lands on his feet. The camera shows Ibushi’s disbelief while over his shoulder Ospreay turns to meet his eyes.

Ibushi and Ospreay get in a striking exchange that Will actually hangs in until Ibushi nails him with a lariat.

The Golden Lovers once again dispatch Tanahashi with a V Trigger/roundhouse kick combo before going to the top to his Ospreay with a double 450 (you know the actual name of the move), but Ospreay counters by hitting a Spanish Fly to both. Tanahashi hits the High Fly Flow to Omega followed by an Ospreay Shooting Star Press, but Ibushi breaks the pin. As the 25 minute call is made, Ospreay is the last man standing in the ring with his eyes set on Kenny Omega. As Ospreay goes for the Stormbreaker, Omega counters with a poisonrana followed by a Last Ride from Ibushi, into a Tiger Driver 98 from Omega. Omega hits another V Trigger and goes for a powerbomb, Ospreay counters into a hurricanrana before hitting Omega with a hook kick and an OsCutter, but Omega stays standing and holds Ospreay up before Ospreay ducks and an Ibushi roundhouse meets Kenny’s temple. Ospreay and Tanahashi hit straightjacket German suplexes in stereo, but they only get a two count. Ospreay goes for another OsCutter but Ibushi keeps him on the ropes so Omega can attempt the One Winged Angel. Ospreay is able to wiggle out, but only enough to get hit by an Ibushi-assisted Tombstone instead. One last gasp of hope as Tanahashi breaks up the fall, but he’s taken out of the ring again before a Golden Trigger.

The Golden Lovers win and the snow falls in Korakuen Hall.

These four men’s careers are forever linked, even beyond the obvious link between the Golden Lovers. Kenny Omega’s first NJPW singles title outside the junior division was won by defeating Tanahashi. Tanahashi returned the favor almost three years later when he defeated Omega for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in the Tokyo Dome, but only after beating Ibushi in the G1 Finals.

Will Ospreay has victories over all three that punctuate different eras of his career. He beat Tanahashi on the last night of block competition in his first G1. He beat Ibushi to win his first singles title outside of the junior division and to win the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. He and Kenny Omega stole the show at the Tokyo Dome and did it again for AEW just five months later at Forbidden Door.

November and December are forgettable parts of the New Japan calendar to many, but on December 15, 2018, Kenny Omega, Kota Ibushi, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Will Ospreay found perfection.

Listen to Voices of Wrestling’s NJPW podcast: Super J-Cast!

Powered by RedCircle