New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Beginning in Osaka 2024
February 11, 2024
EDION Arena Osaka (Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium)
Osaka, Japan

Watch: NJPW WORLD

Meet our previewers:

John Carroll: Back for another NJPW preview, why not. It’s the only thing I do around here really besides very occasionally podcast. Follow me on fucking X DOT COM @toshanshuinla where I’m now most famous for getting Tony Khan to take time out of his busy schedule to correct a minor typo. I just picture him picking up his phone in the middle of booking an AEW show or doing whatever it is he does with the Jaguars or Fulham or whatever other sports teams he has a hand in, seeing my tweet, and going “A-HA! This ‘john’ person typed 0.01% instead of 0.1%, I have an opening!” and almost start laughing out loud. If nothing else I’ll always be able to say I got a billionaire to correct my percentage math and then post a Sopranos meme at me, and no one will ever be able to take that away from me. Oh yeah, @wrestleomakase for the aforementioned occasional podcast. 

J Michael: In the previous New Beginning preview, J. Michael was threatened with termination from VOW if he continued to use his introduction time to babble about irrelevant nonsense. J. Michael responded by ranking that week’s CRUMBL line-up. Because he got the ranking correct, he was given another chance to present a proper introduction.

Instead, he’d like to talk about the Kids in the Hall. He finally finished the new Amazon Prime season of KITH with a friend, and it was an illuminating watch. Critics were favorable, but J Michael was left puzzled. Obviously, he wasn’t expecting peak 1991 Kids or anything. That said, the shift to all pre-tapes, the lack of monologues, and the generally unambitious nature of the season felt weird. Not bad, but an odd experience for someone who grew up on the show.

Ranking KITH projects

  1. The original show
  2. Death Comes to Town
  3. Brain Candy
  4. The 2000 tour
  5. The Amazon revival.

Anyway, enjoy the nothing J. Michael offers @ryugu_jo 

CHAOS (YOH and Toru Yano) vs. Oleg Boltin and Ryusuke Taguchi

John: The biggest challenge with writing previews for these NJPW B-shows is finding something interesting to say about these undercard tags, especially ones like this where exactly zero of the participants have anything going on at the moment. YOH is still doing his Bugs Bunny character and probably pining for MUSASHI to start with New Japan soon so he can have something to do, Toru Yano is doing a lot more jobs than he used to (and I mean A LOT more- even in some recent years where you probably didn’t think of him getting pushed much he probably used to take 1 or 2 falls outside of the G1 a year, but now he’s practically become a CHAOS loss post of late), Oleg Boltin is still a young lion (even as his classmates have already departed for excursions) and Taguchi is, well, Taguchi. I guess CHAOS wins this, I dunno. Who cares. Prediction: CHAOS

J. Michael: What a clash of polar opposites here. In one clash, you have the ludicrously, performatively eccentric YOH, achieving his dream as a living art installation, against the austere presentation of Oleg Boltin, who spends most of his time wrenching guts. For the other half, Toru Yano vs. Ryusuke Taguchi confront the audience with another antithesis: on one side, you have Ryusuke Taguchi, who is a very funny comedy wrestler, someone who delivered great action and amusing ideas against ZSJ earlier in the tour. On the other side, you have Toru Yano, who is currently the most excruciatingly unfunny motherfucker alive, a bilious, exhausting torrent of miserable, wretched, depleted concepts. It’s like that godawful, embarrassingly amateurish Brooklyn Art Museum exhibit curated by Hannah Gadsby, filtered through the equally embarrassing medium of professional wrestling. Yano sucks now. He is as washed conceptually as Tanahashi is physically washed. He was funny until 2021, and then everything nosedived… just like Tanahashi’s mobility.

There is no need for Oleg Boltin to go on an excursion. The smart thing would be for him to pin, and possibly retire, the utterly useless Yano. Especially if YOH is committed to being a more self-aware, excessively farcical version of Yano, with more sophisticated artistic merit. Catapult Boltin and let him catch up to the push. Or, you know, have Taguchi come within millimeters of exposing his genitals, walk around ringside in a stupor after the match, his genitals millimeters from exposure, and continue giving wins to this ghost town faction.  Prediction: CHAOS

Bishamon (YOSHI-HASHI and Hirooki Goto) vs. United Empire (Callum Newman and Great-O-Khan)

John: Bishamon haven’t done much of anything since losing the IWGP Tag Team Titles to New Generation GOD back at Wrestle Kingdom- in fact, they’ve barely been on the shows, with Goto only appearing on Dash and Night 5 of the New Beginning tour and YOSHI-HASHI on Dash and Nights 4 & 6. That means one televised appearance for Goto and two for YH since the Dome, so yeah, they’ve been pretty quiet. Both teams are representing units whose leaders are about to make big jumps to the US (every dollar is worth 148 yen at the moment so who can blame them I guess, although the way Okada is leaving the company in particular is kind of a fucking disgrace), leaving the futures of CHAOS and United Empire both very much in doubt. I doubt we’ll get many answers as to what each unit has in store in this meaningless undercard tag, though. Prediction: CHAOS

J. Michael: One would assume that the United Empire could potentially dissolve after (or even during) the cage match in the main event of this show. But this unorthodox tag team of Great-O-Khan and Callum Newman fully display the folly of that potential pathway. That neither one of them were able to make the cut for the main event fully displays the profound depth of this faction. There is such a wild disparity in New Japan factions, but the top-to-bottom strength of the United Empire is easily the most robust in this company.

Great-O-Khan and Callum Newman were standouts on February 4th at Korakuen, in the singles match primers for the cage match on this show. GOK was a last-minute replacement for Jeff Cobb against Alex Coughlin, and proved to be, possibly, an even more propitious match-up for the… android? What the fuck is Alex Coughlin right now? Is this the sign of the terrible future presented to us in, say, Boichi’s Origin? Is the measure of a society fully submerged in technocratic dystopia the ability for robots to achieve identity crises? Is that what Coughlin and Kidd’s pre-match Hansen-Brody homage tantrums are all about? Whatever Coughlin is searching for, he showed promise in discovering it against O-Khan. The match fucking ruled, a cascading symphony of throws and subversive stubbornness. Of all the people, it was GOK that brought it out, and showed the GOK we all want to see.

Newman had a half-tour story with Finlay, getting powerbombed out of his boots by David Finlay to start things off, and having a wonderful match with Finlay on the 4th. It was essentially a squash. Strategically flavored with hope spots sprinkled throughout, but a squash, nonetheless. But Newman looked magnificent in the match. As Joel Abraham says, get attached to these foreigners at your own emotional risk, but Newman looks like a budding, precocious prodigy.

Bishamon are here, as John noted, and that’s all you can say for them. Goto has shown up once on the tour so far, at the non-broadcast 2/3 house show in Saitama. YSH-HSH appeared in the opening match of the 2/4 Korakuen, reprising his “breathing mammal” character in the opening tag match on the show. If he even tagged in, we don’t remember, and we do not give nearly enough fucks to generate the electrical sparks necessary to fuel our brain and fingers to go to World and check. 

Either way, with how strongly they were pushed over the last 2-3 years, they have ended up becoming a defining team of this era. Bishamon will be kept strong for a long time to come. Equally strong is the priority of this company to have GOK lose whenever a win would serve him much better than his opponents. If New Japan could only commit to, say, better hiring practices, as strongly as they are committed to relentlessly beating GOK… Prediction: Bishamon 

Tiger Mask, Tomoaki Honma, El Desperado, and Shota Umino vs. HOUSE OF TORTURE (Yujiro Takahashi, Ren Narita, SHO, and EVIL)

John: Okay, at least we’ve gone from totally meaningless undercard tags to undercard tags that are actually building future matches. In this case, EVIL will be making his first defense of his spray painted NEVER belt against Shota Umino on Night 1 of the Sapporo doubleshot that will close the New Beginning tour (with Fantasticamania weirdly wedged in between this Osaka show and those shows a couple weeks later), while on the same event SHO will face IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion El Desperado in a non-title match. I really liked Despy being like “you know what SHO, fuck you, you don’t get a title shot against me just for attacking me backstage, you haven’t won anything since Kanemaru handed you the KOPW for two seconds and that was four and a half months ago”, as it felt like a nice little change to see a babyface use his brain for once. That’s right, you DON’T have to give every asshole heel a shot at your title just for jumping you from behind! Who knew?

So we have directions for EVIL, Umino, SHO and Despy, and with all due respect to Tiger Mask, Honma and Yujiro those guys are all pretty much jobbers, but that leaves Ren Narita and his Party Fair robe sticking out like a sore thumb. He really doesn’t have much to do now that Umino vanquished him at Korakuen and got his revenge on him for the heel turn- while I’m sure they’re going to revisit that particular feud many times over, hopefully we get to see heel Narita mix it up with some new faces in the meantime. It would be nice to see him start a new feud in the upcoming New Japan Cup- maybe against another generational rival? I could get into Narita vs. Uemura. Prediction: HOUSE OF TORTURE

J. Michael: This started out pretty uninspired: a perfunctory title defense by El Desperado against Yoshonobu Kanemaru, a perfunctory, and a fairly languid Narita-Umino match, not a rematch technically, but there’s something enervating about that feud. It brought out some interestingly fatalistic sadism from Umino, but Narita is very quickly devolving into a heavyweight version of SHO, while somehow weighing the less of the two.

But they delivered an interesting twist here; instead of those matches being early-tour culminations, they unexpectedly bridged to faction-feud extensions. Instead of half a tour of Hontai v. HOT, followed by the subsequent half-tour of mind-numbingly vacant time filler tag matches for the rest of the tour, they furnished us with substantive additions. This has turned into a full tour program, possibly further.

As John noted, SHO attempted to weasel his way into a Junior title shot, but Despy is playing some kind of self-aware wrestling fan champion character. Fitting for a guy that did multiple GCW shots last year, does weekly commentary on World’s Dynamite airings, and seems to have friends in every goddamn company in Japan, but a truly peculiar entity in this company. Desperado straight up denied SHO’s title request, but offered the non-title match at tour’s end. That leaves a fascinating scheduling complication: usually, someone in SHO’s place would win to set up the actual title shot later, but when would that take place? If not the Anniversary Event, after New Japan Cup? Is dopey-ass Marty Feldman-faced SHO worth the wait?

Narita is just sad at this point, though we admit that impression is totally imprisoned by the moment. Losing to Umino has set him adrift, and a HOT member adrift is a somber thing, indeed. There’s no purpose to his existence right now, so he’s cutting quick, laconic backstage comments, punctuated with his fake laughter. But the most risible aspect of this is how utterly inconsequential he feels. On the Korakuen shows 2/4 and ⅖, he spent most of his time fucking around with that skateboard thing he has. Is it actually a push-up thing, like meathead Umino used it? Is it some kind of sacrosanct religious object he’s co-opted? There’s so much sadness imbued in the HOT experience, but at least on this tour they’ve been paired up with conducive opponents, in the buildings that actively engage the HOT process. Prediction: Wrenches, push-up skateboard religious artifacts, garrote wires, upside-down scrotum chops from the top rope, immaculately conditioned hair… we’re getting a full-course Michelin starred Torture banquet.

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)

John: More hype for Sapporo, in this case for the five match series between these two units that’s pretty much the entire card for Night 2. This has been kind of a sleepy unit vs. unit rivalry, especially when there’s a completely insane unit vs. unit blood feud going on at the exact same time to compare it to, but despite most of us seemingly wanting this to have more juice, it is worth noting that tickets for that aforementioned Night 2 in Sapporo have sold VERY well so far. There’s at least a chance of a sellout for Night 2 (ringside & Stand B are already officially sold out, and the other seat categories of arena seats & Stand A are also showing up as sold out on at least one of the three ticket sites), whereas Night 1 by comparison only has ringside seats sold out and no other seat categories. To be fair, some of that can probably be credited to Okada’s last match before leaving NJPW (although we still don’t know what that match will even be), but many of these tickets were likely sold before we even got the announcement of Okada leaving. 

In any case, this will be another chance to see these two units go up against each other before the big singles match series, which if you missed the news now includes a hair vs. hair match in Tsuji vs. Uemura. It doesn’t really matter who wins this one (especially since there will be another final preview 10-man tag on Night 1 in Sapporo), so I flipped a coin. Ok, I had Siri flip a coin for me cause I didn’t want to get up. Whatever. Prediction: Just 5 Guys

J. Michael: Exasperation requires energy, so we can’t say we’re exasperated by this faction war, but the fatigue is real. It was real at Wrestle Kingdom when, exhilarated by SANADA’s rescue of Naito, we instantly felt the color drain from our face when SND held up that one goddamn finger. We knew what that indicated: a gelid, miserable February. As we’ve noted with John thus far, the booking for this tour has remarkably exceed initial impressions; what once seemed like a drab, complacent, placeholder New Beginning tour has played out with fecund sprouts: sagacious booking decisions and turns, bolstered by the wrestlers stepping up in a big way, especially on 2/4.

But 2/4 was all about the United Empire vs. BULLET CLUB WAR DOGS rivalry. This faction warfare, technically the supporting threads undergirding the entire tour, was an afterthought that night. They then forced the audience to endure a half-hearted gauntlet match the next night, 57 minutes of time limit draws, mismatched pairings for the sake of pinfall symmetry, and… well, the young guys saving the whole fucking thing with roughly 14 minutes of engrossing, captivating action. If the the 3rd match at Wrestle Kingdom was a thoroughly unfavorable position for Yota Tsuji and Yuya Uemura, the main event of an early February Korakuen was congruity itself. 

They upstaged their seniors, and managed to steal the thunder the rest of the tour, as well. A fucking lucha de apuestas match between two rookies, both still within a year of returning, generational rivals from the same dojo class, each with magnificent follicles, certainly feels more provocative than the brisk, tediously banal world title rematch that will conclude the tour. One which, by the way, is a continuation of the story that compelled no one leading into Wrestle Kingdom: SANADA won’t talk, Naito wants him to talk. Actually, that’s not totally fair. There is a twist to this codicil to their program: Naito has pretty much given up. It can’t be defended, and we were probably the only critic in the goddamn world, besides the We Work Stiff guys, that actually defended the Wrestle Kingdom story.

Even Taichi and Shingo, who were so great together 12-18 months ago that they legitimized the KOPW title, feel like they are caught in the post-Wrestle Kingdom malaise. It doesn’t have to be that way, but, then again, considering the turbulence elsewhere, maybe some banality is a good thing. Prediction: Just 5 Guys




Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi

John: Fuck this. Prediction: You think Okada is actually allowed to lose this? Lol ok

J. Michael: Poor John. Okada’s departure, with the complicated mechanics of office incompetence and talent egocentricity, evokes legitimate criticism to all parties, exacerbated by the sheer… disappointment, the profound dejectedness of Okada leaving voluntarily, abruptly. When John expressed these criticisms, they were labeled things that John fundamentally is not: histrionic, blindly loyalist to New Japan, and anti-labor. Anti-fucking-labor for objecting to Okada’s departure, which has been an entirely vacuous exercise, benefitting no one. And it certainly could have benefitted someone. For instance, one of these fucking new guys. Just one of them. Pick a name out of a fucking Lamborghini-shaped hat

And, to be clear, there is a very high chance that the Okada-as-diva news that has trickled out is a light smear campaign by the company, or an airing of grievances accumulated by… his fellow workers! If we’re talking worker-friendly, boss-antagonistic behavior, you need both sides of the equation. Okada’s being pegged as someone using the latter antagonism to fuel worker… indifference? It’s just an absolute mess. Whomever you want to blame, whomever is culpable, no one was elevated, nor advanced by working with Kazuchika Okada in this last year, this 12-18 months of returns. You know, because he didn’t work with any of them. It’s malfeasance all around.

If only Okada had been nurtured in an environment which provided him with tangible exemplars of that perspicacious foresight necessary to sacrifice a small portion of your current self for the future of the industry, company, and your own future self. Unfortunately, Okada was brought up witnessing by some of the most solipsistic, selfishly destructive, reprehensibly vain wrestlers to ever live. Wrestlers who achieved incredible success, for sure, probably were driven by that rabid individualism. But, also, people that made things incredibly difficult for those following them. It’s no wonder Okada turned out this way when they time came for him to give back,

Oh, sorry, we got our notes mixed up. Okada was cultivated in that environment, Hiroshi Tanahashi was, and his response to that upbringing was to do the exact opposite, making Kazuchika Okada’s career in one night, in the very same building this match will take place, almost 12 years to the day prior. Tanahashi was roughly the same age (35 then, Okada is 36 now), and probably even more dominant than Okada, having just broken the defense record with a 400+ day title reign. Tanahashi could have scoffed at the idea, but he trusted the creative vision of the team.

This industry does not encourage selflessness, even though the most pristine example is right there. By making Okada, Tanahashi extended his own time at the top, and drastically increased his own worth and earnings by fostering the future around him. Of course, Tanahashi did not have the options to leave that Okada does now, nor the international profile to do so with such assurance. At 36, this is Okada’s final window to leave. We don’t fault the decision, but the process is balls. If it is indeed true that he was uncooperative about working with the new guys, he’s a repugnant, vainglorious charlatan. There’s no excuse; he’s in this position because his February 11 opponent, the President of the company, played ball willingly. His in-ring sobbing, his bluster about the young guys needing to feel the desperation of filling the void he leaves… all of it rings stunningly hollow if there’s any truth to the rumors. It’s almost shockingly disconnected from a disaster he fomented. If true, of course.

Obviously, none of this has obfuscated or muffled the adoration of the fans attending the shows. The Korakuen crowds showered him in adulation, and presumably this Osaka crowd will pay homage as well. The company appears to be ambivalent. There’s remarkably little fanfare for his departure; this is a stark contrast to Shinsuke Nakamura’s departure 8 years ago, where they practically had Pieter come out of a giant cake in the ring to celebrate his New Japan career. But then, Nakamura put over Kenny Omega on 1/5 in 2016. Even though they let Nakamura keep his Intercontinental title to the end, forfeiting on his way out in the way Okada did with the 6-man title, Nakamura already did business. Okada’s not doing business.

Since 2018, Okada and Tanahashi have faced each other three times, and all three times have felt more like nostalgic tributes to their past masterpieces. In 2019, they main evented the opening night of the G1 Climax in Dallas, the match famous for the raucous applause after the opening bell, which they justifiably embraced and savored. At 22 minutes, it was their shortest match since Okada’s Young Lion send-off match in 2010, and worked like a condensed greatest hits match. They next met in the 2021 G1 Climax, which was an excellent clap-crowd contest, yet also had an element of wistfulness; at 29:36, teasing a time limit draw harkened back to their three previous G1 Climax draws. Finally, they clashed one year ago, at Battle in the Valley 2023. By this point, Tanahashi was completely shot. The match went 21 minutes, and, weirdly, seemed like an homage to the Dallas match.

The context of this one almost necessitates a greatest hits match, and the atmosphere ensures it will exceed the previous ones. Unless you are so soured by Okada’s departure, the particulars of his final year in the company, and the largely inconsequential nature of the match, this will be a equally fun and sentimental semi-semi-semi main event. And, for the sake of it, let’s say Mr. President is the real Hogan here and gets that W back, brother. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi

IWGP Tag Team Championship
G.O.D. (El Phantasmo and Hikuleo) (c) vs. BULLET CLUB (Chase Owens vs. KENTA)

John: Oh boy, I get to watch the same exact mediocre tag title match I already saw in Nagoya, except for a different set of belts this time for some reason? Aren’t I just the luckiest Shin Nihon freak ever. I’m sure there must be someone out there who cares about this riveting Hikuleo/ELP vs. KENTA/Chase feud, but god knows it’s not me. Maybe that person is really into watching Chase Owens lightly tap people on the forehead with tag team title belts over and over again, I dunno. Anyway, since they just steadfastly refuse to unify their two redundant sets of tag titles for reasons that I absolutely cannot fathom, I would imagine Chase & KENTA are probably winning this. Oh happy day. Prediction: BULLET CLUB

J. Michael: KENTA’s new backstage comment gimmick is pretending that he is kissing cameraman Fatty behind the screen. And so, this is one critic that welcomes this new team, regardless of KENTA’s partner.

In the same clip linked above, KENTA takes one final swipe at Okada for calling the New Japan Cup the “New Jacan Puc,” something we confirmed through an exhaustive research process of watching videos. He also continued his obsession with calling YOSHI-HASHI ugly, at any opportunity. Just great stuff. Glad to see KENTA has  returned to form.  

By the way, last time, when we previewed the Nagoya show, we noted how baffled we were by the intensity of the hatred for Chase Owens. We were rushing like crazy to meet a deadline for that show, so our words cascaded out without much regard for our reader (not that anyone could tell the difference, we’re self-aware of our incomprehensibly impenetrable tortured writing). A reader asked us about that section, so we did want to note that we were talking entirely about Owen’s in-ring. All the other stuff around Chase that provokes such antipathy, we didn’t mean to downplay that. We just remembered how much vitriol we had seen during the last G1 Climax for Owen’s ring work.

We think Chase is a good worker, but this team is not really about work. It’s about antics and diablerie, which we saw in the Nagoya match for the STRONG titles. ELP and Hikuleo thwarted the BULLET CLUB then, which portends ominously for this match. One would think that ELP and Hikuleo should just hold the damn titles and use a robust title reign to gain steam, but this company also really loves both Chase and KENTA. The booking seems totally backwards… why not have BULLET CLUB win the STRONG titles, especially since Chase and KENTA haven’t been brought to Japan much lately, but, considering they are all foreigners, you can’t really count on any of them being brought to Japan consistently at the moment. Prediction: BULLET CLUB

Special Singles Match
Zack Sabre. Jr. vs. Bryan Danielson

John: Finally, a glass of water for my parched throat. Bryan Danielson vs. Zack Sabre Jr. was one of the best matches of 2023– I had it eighth on my list and it finished even higher on the final VOW list (5th, to be exact). I never expected that we’d get the rematch so soon into 2024, nevermind that it would come in NJPW with Bryan Danielson coming back to Japan barely over a month after Wrestle Kingdom. But this match unfortunately highlights both the good and the bad about the NJPW/AEW partnership (not even counting the fact that AEW can’t stop signing up the New Japan roster of course)- while it’s great that we’ll get to see more of Danielson, still one of the best wrestlers in the entire world, in the NJPW environment that really lets great wrestlers excel, on the other hand this match just feels like it has almost no buzz at all while I type this all of four days before the show. That I guess is unavoidable when you have no access to one of the two wrestlers to do any kind of hype tags or buildup matches of any kind, but it sure would be nice if AEW even acknowledged that this math was happening on their TV and let Danielson cut a promo or two about it or something. If you just watched Danielson in AEW over the last month you’d have no idea this return match of two of the best technical wrestlers of all time is even happening (I cannot even tell you how many people have asked me in the last few weeks, since they know that I’ll know the answer, when Danielson/Sabre II is actually happening), and that’s a damn shame.

But again, the good of course is just that we get to see this match again, and the fact that it’s happening in Japan this time is an added bonus. While Zack may have been exaggerating a bit when he once said that performing technical wrestling in front of a US audience was like “reading Shakespeare to a dog”, well…he wasn’t entirely wrong either. Last time around they did a finish that left things perfectly open-ended, with all their arguing about who was the best technical wrestler ending with Danielson not tapping Zack out but instead pinning him after his knockout knee to the face, letting Zack point out (correctly) that Bryan hadn’t actually proven anything at all. I do think Zack is winning here, but in a twist perhaps he also gets a pinfall victory over Bryan (either with one of his wacky cradles or just with the Zack Driver), once again leaving it open-ended who the better technical wrestler is for the inevitable rubber match. Either way, I expect this to be nothing short of fantastic. Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr.

J. Michael: There’s not much to add to what John said here, mainly because the only thing we care about here is the result. Sabre has been circling around Tanahashi all tour, another example of Wrestle Kingdom residue staining this tour. One highlight was a left-field ZSJ vs. Tiger Mask match at Korakuen on 1/24, a first-time singles match that was a delightfully anodyne six-minute opener. 

Sabre shouldn’t have lost that match at Wrestle Kingdom to Tanahashi. He shouldn’t lose this match to Bryan Danielson. Looking at the New Japan landscape, things feel starkly different to one month ago, and it’s not merely because Okada and Ospreay are leaving. The young(ish) guys have answered the call beautifully:

  • Kosei Fujita was the star of the 6-man title match on January 24 (which he should have scored the fall, on Okada, center of the fucking ring. Who cares about weight classes at that point)
  • Shota Umino continues to shine, showing remarkable fire in response to HOT’s drivel
  • Yuya Uemura and Yota Tsuji saved both the February 5 Faction Warfare Gauntlet match and the faction war program entirely with their performance, and now have a huge hair vs. hair stipulation for the Sapporo show
  • HENARE and Gabe Kidd had a legit match of the year contender on the February 4 Korakuen
  • Great-O-Khan and Alex Coughlin had a tremendous, overlooked match on February 4, emphasizing the rapid growth of Coughlin

These guys are totally ready. And, perhaps, it doesn’t matter. Circumstances call for some of them to be put at the top now, and they will have to grow into the role as the audience acclimates to them being at the top. 

But, we’d rather go the reliable route and have some kind of bridge between the disintegrating past and the potentially sturdy future. That bridge is Zack Sabre Jr. He is still young enough (36) and in possession of enough credibility to hold the top prize. A win over Danielson unquestionably puts him in position to either challenge Naito at some point prior to the G1 Climax, or win the G1 Climax and challenge Naito next January. And, considering their history, Sabre would be a worthwhile wrestler to dethrone Naito. 

Of course, whenever these fanciful ideas pop up around New Japan future booking, they always end up wildly off-base. Either way, Sabre should win this one. Once again, Bryan Danielson comes to Japan, with the story of “I won the last time, but not how I wanted to,” and that… hubris? Is this hubris? Whatever it is, it should cost him again.  Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr.

Steel Cage Match
United Empire (Francesco Akira, TJP, HENARE, Jeff Cobb, and Will Ospreay) vs. BULLET CLUB War Dogs (Drilla M0loney, Clark Connors, Gabe Kidd, Alex Coughlin, and David Finlay)

John: Ever since witnessing the wild and crazy brawl between these two sides at New Year Dash in person, this feud has been my undeniable highlight for New Japan Pro Wrestling so far in 2024. These two sides have just gone to absolute war with each other at every turn, most recently taking things up a notch on the last two Korakuens with the incredible double KO slugfest between HENARE and Gabe Kidd (and don’t sleep on the other War Dogs vs. United Empire singles matches on that show either, which were quite fun as well). Those Korakuens also gave us the late announcement from David Finlay (remember, Will Ospreay back at the aforementioned Dash had said that Finlay could choose any stipulations he wanted for this unit showdown, giving him an early edge on 2024’s “dumb babyface of the year” award) that this will be essentially a War Games match, with two wrestlers from each unit starting out and another one coming in every few minutes. I especially loved Finlay not even bothering with the pretense of a coin toss and just being like “well, Ospreay said I could pick any rules I want, so I pick that we have the man advantage”- a brilliant little touch that just adds to Finlay’s character as being ruthlessly smart. 

Honestly, I think people need to give David Finlay another shot in this role if they haven’t already- I thought he was excellent at Wrestle Kingdom and more than held his own with Ospreay & Moxley in that three-way, and I’m really liking his character work so far in 2024 even more than I did before. He’s doing a great job standing out as different from Jay White (important given people’s early “Jay White knockoff” impressions of him of course)- where Jay was over the top with the maniacal evil laugh (and could come off a little insecure of himself as BC leader, which I don’t mean as an insult- I always thought this was on purpose as part of his characterization), Finlay is cool, calm and collected. He can be angry and fired up at times when it calls for it, but his main character trait is standing back with a smirk and watching things play out exactly as he wants them to, which is different enough from White’s nearly mustache-twirling villain. He’s really come into his own during this feud especially as a smug prick, beating down various UE members while repeatedly asking the very valid question of “where’s Ospreay?”.

The United Empire will obviously enter this match in a very precarious position. This will be the final match for their leader before he departs for AEW, one of the participants of this match has been putting over how scared he is of being involved in this bloody gang war for the past month+, and another participant is coming in with a thigh injury that caused him to be pulled from multiple shows. It sure feels like this could end up being the last stand for the Empire. If they are dissolving after this show, obviously all bets are off here and we could be looking at one or more turns. As many others have already pointed out, Francesco Akira (the aforementioned guy who’s been acting more than a little cowardly during this entire feud) is positioned as teaming with the CMLL heels throughout the Fantasticamania tour next week. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s turning here- sometimes guys who are in units that we think of as neutral or even face-leaning end up teaming with the CMLL heels on these tours simply because there’s a lot of pure babyface Hontai guys on the shows already and they need to balance the sides. But it’s still an interesting thing to note. Would it surprise me if any of the UE guys turned heel? Well, I guess Ospreay turning would be surprising because he’s leaving the company anyway and that would basically be NJPW running an angle for AEW- not entirely out of the realm of possibility given how cucked they often seem by their American partners of course, but it would still be weird! Everybody else could easily turn though, and other than Akira, TJP especially kind of has my radar up given how he’s been talking about stepping up to heavyweight of late. A turn would be a big way to cement a move up in weight class.

Regardless of the future of UE and any of its members, I do feel certain about two things regarding this match: it should be an absolute war (I would be shocked given the very high quality brawls they’ve been having for weeks now if this disappoints), and the BC War Dogs are going to win (or at least they damn well SHOULD win). There’s really no point in putting the UE side over with their leader leaving, even if the unit does end up continuing in some form. Just like their leader, the War Dogs are absolutely hitting their stride and are going to be a major part of New Japan going forward. No reason at all to galaxy brain this and have UE win to give Ospreay a nice goodbye or whatever. Don’t do my dogs for real like that, Gedo. Prediction: BULLET CLUB War Dogs

J. Michael: Three years ago, when the United Empire was just three people (Ospreay, O-Khan, and the lady in NXT with the bland Anglican name), they absolutely carried the New Beginning tour. That tour was rough… it very quickly dawned on everyone that the pandemic was firmly entrenched in our lives, and, for those of us that watch Japanese wrestling, that our hobby was not reverting to normalcy as soon as anticipated. Clap crowd conditions would continue for another 18 grueling months, effectively maiming the puro world.

But back in January-February 2021, as Kota Ibushi and SANADA built towards a ruthlessly competent IWGP/Intercontinental title match, and while Hiromu Takahashi and SHO built towards a 36-minute monument to the underwhelming, a match that almost necessitated a SHO heel turn, Will Ospreay and Great-O-Khan were salvaging, saving, stealing the New Beginning tour in a series of wild brawls and  no contests against Tencozy. It culminated in a tremendous bout between Ospreay and Kojima, while Great-O-Khan won the right to the Mongolian Chop from Tenzan (who avoided the match stip, which forbade him from using the chops ever again, by simply renaming them…). This short feud had the fervency, zealous intensity, and conviction that the rest of the tour lacked, and that’s why it stood out.

And, while the disparity is not as cavernous this time, the United Empire has done it again. With BULLET CLUB War Dogs, they’ve managed to provide a vehemence, a recklessness sorely missing from the rest of the card. This feels consequential, like the future truly is at stake here. The victors will set the tone for New Japan, and the losers will find themselves subjugated, forced to watch that future unfold as they rebuild and recover.

We noted this above, but Ospreay’s absence from the tour has been a blessing, but only in the way that blessings only work for the diligent, not the acquiescent. No doubt, this could have been a cursed tour, notably deficient with Ospreay’s vacancy. They only determining factor would be whether the mid-card guys amplified their game and embraced the spotlight. As noted above, they did. With Ospreay out, focus shifted to HENARE, Gabe Kidd, Alex Coughlin, Clark Connors, Dan Moloney, Francesco Akira, and Callum Newman, amongst others outside these factions. The call was answered. The reason this match is so anticipated, why it is the true main event of the tour, is the efforts of these men throughout these last few weeks, in the ring, backstage, all of it.

As John noted, Finlay is stuck in a place where people have set their feet on him, and the better he exploits his strengths, the deeper they are setting those feet. His promos are usually great, at times exceptional. The interviews he cut leading into Wrestle Kingdom were phenomenal; we saw criticism of them, and the only rationale we can come up with: the feet-setting. The judgment decided before the watching. Sure, his voices isn’t as naturally commanding as others,  as his posturing and body language is really overbearing at times, like he’s laboring to present this character, but that has largely smoothed out. The only reason not to give 2024 Finlay a chance is because you gave up on him too soon.

And yes, the notion that his matches never reach beyond a certain level is somewhat valid. Finlay has never been a sprinter, and the methodical, sanguinary barbarism of his new persona plays into that. He’s a slow burn guy. With stakes and time, he provides compelling conclusions. Missing those elements, it can sometimes fall flat, or feel abrupt. But then again, he had a really captivating 6 minute squash against Callum Newman. 

We’re not sold on the War Games adjacent rule set here. One of the things that was so intriguing about this match was the potential mayhem. BULLET CLUB WAR DOGS are defined by their mercurial, chaotic entrances and brawling. Which is funny, since most of the members are grapplers or technicians at heart, but they pull off the bedlam with authenticity. Even if it’s just Hansen-Brody stuff, Kidd and Coughlin bring a rabid intensity to the pre-match. That’s going to be quelled by the staggered entrances. Now, once all the guys are in there, it should be a total fucking riot. Until then, though, we can only wait. We were hoping for a full-on tornado catastrophe from the get-go, and we have no sentimental attachment to the War Games concept, but this one should be pretty great. 

Osprey is unyieldingly ambitious, so it will be interesting to see how that impulse translates to a confined space. One thing seems certain: he’s losing. There’s a lot you can say about Ospreay, and hold against him, and continue to hold onto into 2024 and beyond. One thing that you can acknowledge about him is his willingness to give and concede to his co-workers. The question here is, will he bolster one faction, or both?

As John noted, United Empire is the real question here. BULLET CLUB is simple: they should win and set a tone for the company ahead. But United Empire… what are they without Will Ospreay. Are they anything without Will Ospreay? TJP has declared himself an openweight, and has literally taken front and center in United Empire backstage comments. That’s fine; if anyone is poised to inherit the Devitt-Styles-Omega-Ospreay line of foreign workrate guys, it’s him at the moment. But his comments have rankled Catch 2/2 teammate Francesco Akira, who was justifiably indignant by TJP’s declaration. Akira stressed the importance of the Junior tag titles, and how much they mean in his life. Now that they’ve lost them, you’d have to think the next step is Akira wondering if TJP was really committed to retaining them. 

Add to that Akira’s reluctance to even participate in this match. Part of the build to this match has been Drilla Moloney’s use of a fork to stab away at Akira’s forehead. This happened at New Year’s Dash; it was called back to on 2/4, with Moloney unsettling Akira with the fork, turning the tide of the match. Akira was insisted that he is uncomfortable being in a match like this. No doubt, the nonchalance of his teammates towards these concerns, and in some cases outright indignance to his fretfulness, could play a role here. 

Simply put, this match will greatly determine the tenor of 2024 New Japan. And it’s going to rule, regardless. Prediction: BULLET CLUB War Dogs

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