New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Beginning in Nagoya 2024
January 20, 2024
Dolphin’s Arena (Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium)
Watch: NJPW WORLD
Meet our previewers:
J Michael: J. Michael was told that he either has to talk about wrestling in his introduction, or he’s fired.
SO, as a final goodbye, he’d like to know: what the fuck is CRUMBL trying to pull here? If he wanted the experience of sitting in a gym locker sized space with 30 other people, waited for faddy, trendy confections, J. Michael would move to the Lower East Side and suffer in a Momofuku Milk Bar. Do we need to diffuse that experience throughout this great land?
J. Michael went out to get his wife some cookies at 8:00 PM on a Monday night, and his local CRUMBL was packed. He waited 45 minutes for cookies that he ordered through the app, consistently being pushed down the line, the literaly line they show you in the app, for these Doordash fuckers. Surrounded by pallid, increasingly existentially anguished faces, he showed incredible courage and patience (he texted his friend the whole time about Kids in the Hall sketches).
BUT… if you need to know, here’s how he ranks the line-up the week this review was published:
- Kentucky Butter Cake
- Brownie Sundae
- Milk Chocolate Chip
- Vanilla Sugar
- Graham Cracker Fudge Sandwich (just too fucking rich and heavy)
He did not try the Wedding Cake. Only black raspberries for him. And for God’s sake, if you say something is blackberry flavored, IT BETTER BE TART. Anyway, enjoy the nothing J. Michael offers @ryugu_jo
Kick-Off Match – 10 Minute Time Limit Young Lion Match
Shoma Kato v. Katsuya Murashima
There’s nothing more comforting than when the Young Lions reach that stage where their nascent abilities are too unrefined to even beat another Young Lion. We got a sprinkling of these two at the end of 2023. They both look as good as you’d expect someone coming straight out of that dojo to look, with the limited offense and the screaming and the grappling. Prediction: Draw
Tomoaki Honma and Shota Umino vs. House of Torture (Yujiro Takahashi and Ren Narita)
We head into the New Year with the Reiwa Musketeers (plus their sexy anodyne clear-glasses D’Artagnan) in full dispute. After spending the larger part of the Fall actually getting Ren Narita, a tepid pot of water masquerading as a broth, over the the attending public, through a brilliant World Tag League, the company skipped steps 3-20 and went straight to a heel turn. They officially teamed together for about a month, that one tour. And, to be clear, it was working. People actually responded to Narita’s cobra twist finish, and no one had ever responded to that move in the year prior.
People seem excited by this turn. Or we should say, House of Torture fans, sentient stacks of jocular forest debris masquerading as human beings, are demonstratively excited by this turn. And, without question, this turn does solve the personality issue plaguing Narita. Narita went from being a pale facsimile of AEW superstar Katsuyori Shibata’s personality (without the years of brazen devotion to a traditionalist style, public failure, chappin chappin, etc.) to… no personality. A guy in a faction (Strong Style, you must recall) whose entire conceit was… a conceit. A nebulous concept. They barely tagged together.
The problem here: personality wasn’t the only issue. Narita’s in-ring wasn’t great, either. He was bolstered early on by matches against HALL OF FAMER Tomohiro Ishii and Zack Sabre Jr. He floundered against Toru Yano and EVIL. His work elicited such sparse reaction it felt eternally wintery when he wrestled.
Those that hoped that Narita’s inclusion would signal a new development for House of Torture deserve the anguish the upcoming years will bring. What a fanciful notion that was, instantly dispelled by Narita’s dopey faces and his new prop, the board that Moe Szyslak used to chase off Kang and Kudos. Narita isn’t changing HOUSE OF TORTURE, they are changing him, molding him into the image they need him to be: a heavyweight version of SHO, who somehow weighs less than SHO.
Lately, Umino has vowed to bring Narita to hell. Gedo beat him to the punch by making Yujiro Takahashi his partner on this tour. Prediction: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS (if Honma is on the other side)
United Empire (Callum Newman, Francesco Akira, TJP, HENARE, and Jeff Cobb) vs. BULLET CLUB (Drilla Maloney, Clark Connors, Gabe Kidd, Alex Coughlin, and David Finlay)
You don’t often see full ten-man tags in New Japan, outside of the usually electric elimination matches he;d two or three times a year. New Beginning seems like a fecund time to run them, but even there you don’t see them that often. Last year’s New Beginning tour saw three: two LIJ vs. CHAOS showdowns, and one between a Jay White BULLET CLUB (which, yes, we are still less than a year removed from Jay White BULLET CLUB) vs. G.O.D. (plus Tanahashi…. Plus Wato).
With two simultaneous full faction warfare programs, we get two on this show alone, and twenty-three on the entire tour, including the big five-on-five cage Ospreay send-off match on February 11. And a twelve-man tag between United Empire and BULLET CLUB on January 21. They are so smitten with the idea that there will be three of them on the February 5 Korakuen, including a bout between HOUSE OF TORTURE and the thoroughly incongruous pentarchy of Shota Umino, El Desperado, Master Wato, Tomoaki Honma, and Oleg Boltin.
Maybe we can add an element to make the match more interesting for the other members of the match: add a door to the top of the cage, and hanging from the ceiling is a shoot contract that says the recipient must be paid in either USD or Euros. You talk about how there are no friends in the Royal Rumble, these guys would be absolutely mauling each other, stablemate or not.
We’re not exactly sure what the pairings are going to be yet; solving that question is about the only relevant consequence and compelling notion to this match. This particular ten-man tag configuration will be run back six more times on the tour, with a twelve-man on January 21 and, oddly, Great-O-Khan, who isn’t even in the fucking cage match at all, substituting to Jeff Cobb on the January 23 and Jnuary 24 Korakuen Hall shows. All of them will be worthwhile to match, with the shambolic frenzy of the BULLET CLUB team (which was once the initial idiosyncrasy of United Empire, with their no contest savagery against TenKozy) and the athletic barbarity and/or spectacle of United Empire.
And, as all modern foreigners, Ospreay is not booked on his final tour until the very last match. The tradition continues. Prediction: BULLET CLUB SWEEP THE TOUR UNTIL OSAKA
El Desperado and Master Wato vs. House of Torture (SHO and Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
We looked back to the last proper New Beginning, in 2020, because this one felt oddly perfunctory as it began to take shape. Since those incipient moments, these cards have sprouted intrigue, but even then we are left with a lot of place-holding and phoned-in booking choices. For sure, the addition of Bryan Danielson is mind blowing, a thoroughly unexpected delight.
But, note the matches that anchored New Beginning 2020:
- Taichi vs. Kazuchika Okada
- Will Ospreay vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
- Shingo Takagi vs. Hirooki Goto
- JON MOXLEY VS MINORU SUZUKI
- Tetsuya Naito vs. KENTA as your big drawing world title match
- Hiromu Takahashi vs. Dragon Lee for the Junior title.
So yes, as much as it pains us to say this, considering that El Desperado assuredly loves Kanemaru as his first defense, in his never-ending devotion to his former mentor, and the boundless poignancy he feels towards their run as the foundational element of the Junior Tag division from 2018-2021… this is not Hiromu Takahashi vs. Dragon Lee. New Beginning is usually a bridge between Wrestle Kingdom and New Japan Cup, for sure, and usually filled with inconsequential title defenses, but this is such a stacked fucking division, one that hasn’t yet been decimated by the rapacious poach-thirsty scavengers of American wrestling.
That said, this is an excellent Korakuen main event, seeing as Korakuen is one of the few places in the New Japan venue rotisserie that still responds vociferously to the HOUSE OF TORTURE formulas. Apparently the sales for their January 23 show is doing better than the January 24 Korakuen headlined by Narita vs. Umino, though we expect both shows to fill the room. We’ve seen Desperado against HOUSE OF TORTURE infrequently in the last couple of years; the dynamic of Despy against Kanemaru should be interesting. Desperado’s leg work is phenomenal, but he’s relied on it so excessively in the last three years, it will be nice to see a different flavor to his matches.
Aside from that, SHO and Wato are a pairing one shouldn’t discount. Even at his lamest, in Wato’s first Best of the Super Juniors in 2020, Wato pulled out a remarkably stiff and captivating match against R3K SHO, wrestling the entire match with a downright demonic grin slathered across his face. Obviously the dojo memories remained, and Wato clearly felt comfortable letting loose against a former training partner. And this was when Wato was almost comically timid and graceless. Hopefully, the push to Wato getting the title begins with this program.
Also, let us express gratitude to New Japan for continuing the DespyWato team. As we noted in our preview of Desperado vs. Hiromu at Wrestle Kingdom 18, Super Junior Tag League was completely centered around this team. Putting it on hold so that Desperado could challenge for the Junior title was bizarre, considering Desperado and Hiromu had almost zero contact all 2023. Now that they are back together, it makes even less sense that Desperado won, but, again, the title should move onto Wato and Desperado is an excellent conduit. Prediction: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS (when it’s an inconsequential match)
Togi Makabe, Tomohiro Ishii, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Kazuchika Okada vs. TMDK (Kosei Fujita, Shane Haste, Mike Nicholls, and Zack Sabre Jr)
In short: this wouldn’t have happened under Harold’s watch. This company is an absolute mess. Corporate shake-ups, allegations of abuse and malfeasance, penny pinching beyond reason while they tout pre-pandemic revenue levels, labor unrest, defections and abandonments, and a pervasive malaise in their creative directions. Their new President has spent the last twenty years either preening or perming a bird’s nest resting on his scalp.
Of course, Wrestle Kingdom was a success and this tour proves that, with healthy ticket sales throughout. And now, as of Thursday January 18, their ace has voluntarily decided to leave. He’s the greatest wrestler of his generation, the greatest active wrestler alive (or, to exclude Mr. President, the great active wrestler able to conduct himself with a normal human’s mobility), and he is, without question, the global face of the promotion. His contributions are only matched by a select few. And by that, we mean a few: Inoki, Tanahashi, Choshu, and…?
Job his ass on the way out.
There will be time to address some of the more sinister implications here, like how America’s flippancy to a global pandemic and their self-propagated and circular money launder scheme of media rights is going to distort Japanese wrestling beyond recognition. How talent is being gobbled up before their gestation period, or when they’ve attained veteran status but not passed on their credibility, or how New Japan will now have to resort to equally rapacious tactics against their country’s scene. It’s ready to crumble folks, but we’ll tackle that in future New Beginning previews.
First, we gotta talk about The Undertaker.
Every so often, and by “often” we mean fucking relentlessly, social media produces arguments, debates, and conflicts over top 5’s or Mount Rushmore’s. Both seem to work, since most wrestling fans (present company included), are as solipsistic and self-impressed as the guy from High Fidelity and his obsession with top 5’s. As for Mount Rushmore… when it comes to demeaning and disregarding the culture and dignity of the indigenous peoples of this land, Mount Rushmore and professional wrestling are brothers in arms.
When a Mount Rushmore debate emerges, you are sure to see a small regiment emerge from the petrie dish of wrestling fandom to put the Undertaker, the fucking Undertaker, on the Mount Rushmore. Some, to be fair, clearly define his entry as their personal judgment, outside of careful analysis. Most truly believe that he belongs there. This guy who never carried the company himself, whose legend grew the less he appeared, who spent half his career either on vacation, tied up with injuries accumulated as his tough style wore away at his massive frame, or… just working one fucking day a year.
Because of his loyalty to the horrid creep/visionary who ran the company, the Chief Justice of Wrestler Court has been persistently extolled in WWE media as not merely an all-time great, but possibly the greatest of the all-time greats. And, to be sure, if we were wrestlers, maybe we would have found him a dream to work with as well, but wrestling is a performing art and we, the audience, had to watch him. He’s in the 99th percentile, no doubt. But to consider him on the level of a Flair, Hogan, Austin, Rock, Bruno, Funk, etc., is not a serious position. It’s only frustrating because the push for him as #1 is so clearly a manufactured strategy by that company.
How does this relate to Kazuchika Okada, and his exit from New Japan?
Because, of all the perplexing stances people take on The Undertaker, the most baffling of all is this notion that The Streak ™ should never have been broken. Let’s ignore the utility of having Brock, who was still aimless at the time, reeling from HHH’s completely illogical win over him at the previous Wrestlemania, beat the Undertaker. A win which propelled him to squash Cena at SummerSlam, and set off a decade of greatness. The idea that The Streak ™ was this unimpeachable edifice completely debases the entire idea of professional wrestling.
We wonder about the excruciating inner turmoil of the people who promulgate this drivel, who also find themselves imprisoned by the past. Either the grifter-sabotuers of wrestling media, or the types that post nothing but old wrestling bills on social media. Who apotheosize an era defined by strong champions and, more importantly, guys who would come into a territory, heat things up for a while, and then get their ass jobbed out as they left. This is the perpetual motion machine that is supposed to, theoretically, fuel wrestling forever. Our sense is the The Undertaker was always going to job at Wrestlemania when the time was right, or else his atavastic methodology would be self-refuted. Nothing is so sacred in wrestling that it can’t be exploited for the next-in-line’s.
And neither is The Rainmaker. He is our favorite wrestler alive, and maybe of all time. Whatever’s happened in the last two years, we think would have been significantly ameliorated if Okada never lost the title to Jay White in 2022. If he just held it for two straight years and lost it to Naito again. And yet, here’s what we propose:
We take Yuya Uemura vs. Yota Tsuji off the February 24 Sapporo show. Who gives a fuck at this point? You just lost Kazuchika Okada to the Americans. Tsuji beats Okada on the 23rd, definitively. Under ten minutes. A blitzkrieg. Then, Uemura and Okada tear the house down on the 24, with dickhead Okada in full display, but Uemura pulls out the win with his austere moveset and passionate aura. He picks the motherfucker up and dropkicks him out of his boots, out of the company, and out of the country.
And sure, there is plenty to dive into about this 6-Man Title defense. The biggest positive is that Kosei Fujita might get strapped up at such a young age. But, after Okada’s notice to leave, nothing else matters. Not in this match, not in any of the matches. You could run Naito vs. fucking Fujinami right now, and Okada comes first. This is the only story of the tour now, unless you’d like to pair it with Ospreay’s departure. Prediction: TMDK
Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi, Yota Tsuji, Shingo Takagi, and Tetsuya Naito) vs. Just 5 Guys (Taka Michinoku, SOUKI, Yuya Uemura, Taichi, SANADA)
We skipped this match every time we sat down to write this preview. We now stand at over 4,000 words for this dumb show, and so we have to prioritize. Let’s justify it this way:
Running back SANADA vs. Naito is the most derelict, apathetic booking imaginable, and so we’ll put an equal amount of critical energy into analyzing it. Here’s our analysis: it’s fucking lame. The opposite of what we mentioned earlier, when they ran KENTA in 2020 and rode the momentum of Wrestle Kingdom. SANADA v. Naito II (though, actually, their fifth match ever) is total hogwash, the most cowardly of punts.
This faction business also completely undermines the Tsuji-Uemura match at Wrestle Kingdom. It made no sense for earnest babyface Uemura to win; he should be chasing that swarthy dickhead Tsuji. Now, he’ll probably lose to Tsuji on this tour, a meaningless and underwhelming finish. No one cares about New Beginning wins. That match serves no one, and it vitiates the past. The fuck, this is your future, guys, act like you have some concept of direction for them. It still feels like they’re fumbling in the dark. We know Japan has white boards, maybe even interactive ones! Break it the fuck out and start charting a course.
Or, they do the right thing and discard that match, and have Tsuji + Uemura kick the Rainmaker off the island. Either way, this faction rivalry feels languid. Of course, our Emperor will make it work, with his best dance partner, and we will get another round of Hiromu vs. DOUKI, but even then we ask: for what? Make Hiromu vs. DOUKI matter. It’s not an afterthought match to some of us. Prediction: YOU ALREADY DIE
KOPW2024 Provisional Title Match – 10 Minute Ishimori Ring Fit Match
Taiji Ishimori (c) (PROVISIONAL) vs. Great-O-Khan
People seem to hone in on any morsel, any fibre of relaxation from Taiji Ishimori. The guy worked as hard as any junior in this company during the pandemic, yet this stereotype persists. He completely outworked Hiromu Takahashi at the baseball stadium show in summer 2020, and delivered three straight impressive Best of the Super Juniors performances, yet he will assuredly never escape this label as an underachiever and a lazy motherfucker.
Well, he’s going to force you to see his work in this match. Thankfully, his stipulation beat out GOK’s lame four corners bullrope nonsense. In this match. There is a ten minute limit, and it is a scramble (as was the New Year’s Dash four-way in which Ishimori won the Provisional Title). Whomever holds the most recent fall wins. In his backstage comment after winning the title, Ishimori was sneak attacked by GOK, which devolved into an argument: small = pitiful vs. big = fat and out of shape. Brothers, can’t everything be a negative trait?
The twist in this match is that every three minutes, Ishimori is going to force GOK into a high intensity workout routine. You know, the fucking burpess and jumping jacks with the fucking extentions and push outs, and the backwards lunging, and the bicycle crunches, and the trunk rotations and whatever the fuck. Probably jump rope will be introduced at some point. Someone is grabbing a 25 pound dumbbell to show off as they do the squats and whatever the fuck. It’s one step closer to my dream, the Fencing Piste Death Match.
KOPW saw a resurgence recently as guys like Shingo Takagi and Taichi introduced more traditionally minded stipulations. Shingo had one of the best matches of the year against HENARE in their Ultimate Triad match. But, sometimes, KOPW needs to be the Toru Yano vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru whiskey drinking contest farce, and we’re all better for it. As always, when it seems like GOK should win, he won’t. We, on the other hand, look forward to Ishimori fucking around with this provisional title for a while. Prediction: Taiji Ishimori
Strong Openweight Tag Team Championship
G.O.D. (El Phantasmo and Hikuleo) (c) vs. BULLET CLUB (Chase Owens vs. KENTA)
New Japan really gets hung up on certain ideas, and they are ruthless in recycling them. Fans of the junior division remember the doldrums of the pandemic, when seemingly every successive program involved both the Junior singles title and the Junior tag titles. And, unfailingly, there would be a tag title defense to build the singles title defense. It happened with double champs like Desperado and Robbie Eagles, it happened even without double champs, like Hiromu.
Once they realized they could have dual champions, and get away with it, with Naito and the double Dome triumph, the floodgates were opened, and a deluge unleashed. In fact, in retrospect Tetsuya Naito emerges as a true company man, for all his brazen, performatively insouciant defiance and taut barbs. Because he’s the one that advocated for this idea the hardest, the idea of a dual champion defending both belts separately. Either he’s a company man, or he’s a Genius with some terrible, godawful fucking ideas. In that way, perhaps rabidly individualist Kota Ibushi is the true company loyalist, since we know he thought the Heavyweight-Intercontinental merge was lame and carried out his orders to support it.
Here we have two sets of tag titles, one of which not one persons gives an ounce of a fuck about, both being defended on the same tour, in the same match-up. That’s a bit of a novelty, we guess. The STRONG titles are on the line here, and they’ll run it back for the IWGP titles in Osaka on February 11th. The matches themselves are hard to parse. We know KENTA and Owens will deliver a steady stream of amusing diablerie, but both guys are wild cards. KENTA hasn’t been in Japan since August, and, while Chase has been back for tours in September and October, he’s clearly been hampered by injuries. People also seem to hate his fucking guts. We mildly praised his work on twitter and were mildly lambasted for it. And yes, it was two, maybe three people, but we’re fragile.
An unfortunate aspect of this match: contracts. Chase literally made his secure contract status an element of his backstage comments once people started lambasting him during the G1 Climax, a clear sign that he was unfazed by the criticism. ELP and Hikuleo did a robust campaign of media appearances leading into Wrestle Kingdom, shoehorning in contract discussion to a coterie of disconcerted podcasters who just wanted to talk about wrestling. Nobody has any fucking clue what KENTA’s deal is; he’s spent more time talking about Defy Wrestling than New Japan.
And, we must say this, as a media entity which, with our tiny voice, has persistently proclaimed KENTA as the best talker in the business, whose backstage comments are true art. We are currently sitting on an article about his 2021 backstage comments that has reached 75,000 words, and we are only halfway through the G1 Climax. And, because KENTA is all gimmick these days, this actually matters; backstage comments are his great asset in 2024. The truth is, KENTA’s 2023 backstage comments were disappointing, jejune and desultory. As if he was feebling grasping for a concept, but could only babble about his hair growth, American barbers, and the fat cameraman.
ELP and Hikuleo are still in the nascent stages of their team. They had an excellent World Tag League, a magnificently indulgent World tag League final, and what we feel is a stunningly underrated match at Wrestle Kingdom with Bishamon. Hikuleo particularly looks encouraging. His lariats, chops, and movements are so crisp compared to recent memory. He’s growing into a worthwhile big man.
ELP is a bit trickier to examine. He seems unsure out there, like he’s confused about where to take his characterizations. His brazen dickhead face character, which worked so beautifully and brilliantly in England, seems to fall flat in some venues, the silence engrossing as you can perceive the dilemma in ELP’s mind. He’s referenced it in the backstage comments. Of course, what works in England doesn’t, and probably shouldn’t work elsewhere. They are a nation of sentient teapots and mailboxes masquerading as human beings. ELP was intriguingly subdued at Battle in the Valley; it’s going to be fascinating to see a wrestler of his physical and intellectual prowess refine his babyface role.
In this one… who fucking knows. Maybe if BC win, they get KENTA on more American shows, and free up G.O.D., simplifying their state as champions. They only need one set of belts; BULLET CLUB can have the decorative ones. Prediction: BULLET CLUB
NEVER Openweight Championship
Tama Tonga (c) vs. EVIL
Poor Tama. People just will not embrace this guy, nor acknowledge what he’s done the past few years. And now, having been given his gold watch on the way out, people rejoice in his departure. By accomplishments, this man is one of the greatest tag team wrestlers in the history of the company. And fine, we can discard those and focus on performance. But how many times do we hear about him overachieving? The Okada matches, the match with Karl Anderson at Wrestle Kingdom (minus the ending), the Jay White G1 Climax match, the Shingo time limit draw, the Shingo match in America, the Shingo match at Wrestle Kingdom this year, the match with Finlay last year… come on, now. You want someone to name a good Tama match, we just fucking did it.
The guy came from the dojo, and this is the clearest example of what that means to this company. Obviously, he was on his way out, but they felt compelled to put a title on him one last time. And, to that point, he’s earned it. He’s emerged as one of the most electric, captivating babyfaces in the company, and anywhere. His comebacks are exhilarating, and the Japanese crowds adore him for it. He got himself into incredible shape, to the point that he won the 2022 NJPW Concurso and nearly won it again in 2023. He rips that borderline-copyright-infringement shirt off, and his matches elevate. Now, of course, sometimes his matches are boring, and the periods where he’s controlled fall flat. But his babyface comeback is reliable as fuck.
Because he’s a lame duck champion, New Japan could have fun with this one, and they sure as hell did. They ran an angle where Tama’s profile page was taken off the New Japan website, only for it to be an angle which fooled all the right people. It turned out to be subterfuge by EVIL, who invaded New Japan headquarters and bullied/abused an employee to delete Tama (as a nonplussed Chris Charlton, writing his latest upcoming 700 word-in-47 seconds opus, pretended not to notice. Like, he literally looked that direction, and pretend that no one was there. Great stuff).
This match will conclude the Tama Tonga era of New Japan. Evil, of course, finishes his tour on Night 1, which will free him up to be a nuisance in his stablemate’s matches, albeit an impotent one that fails every time and usually gets his dick caved in. This one is going to be insufferable to most, either through their dissatisfaction with Tama, their repulsion from HOT, or both. But we believe there will be a charm to this match. And we don’t even discount that Tama wins and they just vacate the title. Either way, we happily salute Tama, and wish him well in retirement. Prediction: EVIL
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