NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING
The NEW BEGINNING IN OSAKA 2024
FEBRUARY 11, 2024
EDION ARENA OSAKA
OSAKA, JAPAN

Watch: NJPWWorld

MEET YOUR REVIEWER:

Suit Williams: Suit is here to cover what will be a significant show for New Japan, as Will Ospreay says farewell and the Rainmaker Sendoff tour approaches its end. Follow Suit on social media, @SuitWilliams. Find his AEW Collision reviews over at F4WOnline and find his long-form work and other reviews here on Voices of Wrestling.

TALES FROM THE UNDERCARD

  • Toru Yano & YOH def. Ryusuke Taguchi & Oleg Boltin
  • Bishamon (Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI) def. Great O-Khan & Callum Newman
  • House of Torture (EVIL, SHO, Ren Narita, & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) def. El Desperado, Shota Umino, Tiger Mask, & Tomoaki Honma
  • Just 5 Guys (SANADA, Taichi, Yuya Uemura, DOUKI, & TAKA Michinoku) def. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi, Hiromu Takahashi, Yota Tsuji, & BUSHI)

KAZUCHIKA OKADA DEF. HIROSHI TANAHASHI

On February 12, 2012, a 24-year-old upstart Kazuchika Okada ended the record-breaking title reign of Hiroshi Tanahashi in what became known as the Rainmaker Shock. It was the beginning of a golden age of New Japan Pro Wrestling, seeing the company soar to new heights both domestically and internationally. That match paved the way for one of the greatest rivalries in professional wrestling history. From the initial shock title win that put Okada on the map, to the legendary “arm match” at Invasion Attack 2013, to the shocking Tanahashi win at Wrestle Kingdom 9 that left Okada in tears, to Okada finally surpassing him at Wrestle Kingdom 10, to the rivalry making its way to US soil in Dallas in 2019, to their most recent match at Battle in the Valley last year, fifteen singles matches between the two defined the Golden Era of New Japan. It’s the feud that helped this site, once jokingly referred to as NJPWMecca, grow alongside the company with our coverage.

On February 11, 2024, a 36-year-old Kazuchika Okada beat Hiroshi Tanahashi in the 16th, and possibly final, encounter of one of the most historically significant feuds in professional wrestling history. The greatest rivalry in this promotion’s history comes to what may be a permanent end here in the same place it started, as Okada will be departing New Japan after New Beginning in Sapporo at the end of the month. It’s fitting that this final match came on the New Beginning tour, as Okada’s departure marks a hard start to a new generation of this promotion.

Was this match to the level of their previous matches? No. Father Time has caught up to Tanahashi quickly, and he’s simply not the wrestler he was. But this match was no embarrassment by any means, and it is still a match that I recommend watching for the historical significance of it. This rivalry ends the same way it began, with Okada scoring the win with the Rainmaker. ****

IWGP TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP
KENTA & CHASE OWENS (W/ TAIJI ISHIMORI) DEF. G.O.D. (EL PHANTASMO & HIKULEO) (W/ JADO) ©

Even in the golden era of New Japan, the Achilles heel of this company has been its tag team division. There was a little while over the past year or two where it felt like New Japan put some real effort into the tag titles with teams like Dangerous Tekkers and Bishamon reigning over the division. Well, that moment seems to have passed. After a heatless 15-minute slog, the IWGP Tag Titles are now on two of the worst wrestlers in the company. It pains me to say that about KENTA, but it ain’t 2006 anymore. Ishimori hit ELP and Hikuleo with the belts, allowing KENTA to pin Hikuleo. *

ZACK SABRE JR. DEF. BRYAN DANIELSON

You know what? I gotta give it to Gedo. Having that shitty tag match on before this match, thus making this match even better by comparison, was a stroke of genius.

These two penned a love letter to technical wrestling back in October at AEW WrestleDream, earning the #5 spot on the VOW Match of the Year list and five stars from me on our review of the show. That match ended with Danielson landing a pair of Busaiku Knees to win the match, while not proving anything to Sabre. Sabre continued to claim that he was the better technician, with Danielson having to resort to the Knees to knock Sabre out. That brought us to the rematch here, where the two picked up right where they left off.

Danielson worked as the heel here, targeting and attacking Sabre’s leg once Sabre hurt it early. Sabre worked from underneath, showing the fire and fighting spirit Danielson claimed he lacked. These two twisted each other in knots for over a half hour, with the Osaka crowd chanting Fight Forever at one stage. As hard as they tried to tap each other out, Danielson and Sabre resorted to their finishers, with both men kicking out of them. Danielson could never lock on the LeBell Lock though, with his last attempt ending in a pinning predicament that ended with Sabre getting the win with a crucifix pin.

Danielson continues the incredible run he’s been on since returning from his orbital bone break in September. Since All Out in Chicago, he’s had two of the ten best matches of 2023 and has two of the best matches of 2024 so far against Okada at Wrestle Kingdom and here against Sabre. As for Sabre, he outwrestled Danielson to score what might be the biggest non-tournament win of his career. After the match, he gestured to his waist and called out Naito and SANADA to the camera. With Will Ospreay’s departure, this could be the win that catapults Sabre into the position as the top foreigner in the company and a legitimate threat IWGP World Championship. The highest of recommendations for this match. ****3/4

It was here where New Japan announced their Resurgence show for May 11, from the Toyota Arena in Ontario, California. That’s another big building for these New Japan shows in the US, as their success for Windy City Riot in Chicago seems to have emboldened their stateside efforts.

DOG POUND CAGE MATCH – WAR GAMES RULES
BULLET CLUB WAR DOGS (David Finlay, Alex Coughlin, Clark Connors, Gabe Kidd, & Dan Moloney) def. UNITED EMPIRE (Will Ospreay, TJP, Francesco Akira, Jeff Cobb, & HENARE)

Will Ospreay and David Finlay started this match, and after some negotiation, extended their start time to five minutes instead of the originally agreed upon two minutes. The War Dogs had the advantage, with Drilla Moloney coming in next, with a bandolier of forks and the corpse of Callum Newman with him. Moloney handcuffed Newman to the cage before jumping in and helping to leave Ospreay lying. HENARE was the second man in for the United Empire, with the match following traditional War Games logic as the babyfaces took control with the odds made even.

Clark Connors was out next, hammering both HENARE and Ospreay with barbed wire forearms. TJP came in with more barbed wire, wrapping it around his boot to give Connors a face wash boot and a closer shave. Alex Coughlin was next for Bullet Club, with a rack of chairs on his arms and gutwrench throws for everyone. Coughlin drove TJP into the cage and the ring post with an Oklahoma Stampede, then buried him under chairs and dumped HENARE onto the pile.

Francesco Akira was next out, coming out from the crowd and diving onto the War Dogs from atop the cage. Akira ran wild, wearing out Finlay with a kendo stick until Connors drove him through a table with a spear. Gabe Kidd was last out for Bullet Club, bringing out a barrel full of plunder and drilling everyone with chairs. Jeff Cobb was the final man in the match, sending everyone flying with power moves and getting the first nearfall of the match with a standing moonsault.

While Cobb was running wild, officials were checking on HENARE who took a nasty shot to the back of the head at one point. That left the United Empire at a man disadvantage, but they were still able to fight. Ospreay hit Coughlin with the Leap of Faith, but Finlay broke up the pin. Kidd took everybody down with the Terry Funk ladder spot, but Ospreay took him and Moloney down with a handspring back elbow into the ladder.

Ospreay and Finlay were left in the ring, with Finlay hitting Ospreay with the Irish Curse for a nearfall. Akira was left with Connors and Moloney, who put him through a chair, but TJP re-emerged as his Great Muta-esque alter ego, The Aswang. Catch 2/2 ran wild, misting Connors and getting a nearfall on Moloney with a double stomp. After the Leaning Tower got broken up, the mayhem began.

HENARE re-emerged, bandaged up like a mummy. We got a massive move train, with everyone landing big shots. It ended with Moloney breaking up an Aswang cover on Coughlin with a Drilla Killa to Ospreay. We got the West Side Story spot, which I hate but think was somewhat earned here, before Ospreay and Finlay were left in the ring. Finlay sent Ospreay onto the apron, where he got speared by Connors through a table.

HENARE laid Finlay out with a trash can before he and Kidd resumed their war from Korakuen Hall. Coughlin handed Catch 2/2 a pair of kendo sticks, then took all of their shots before sent Coughlin to the floor with a dropkick. They set Coughlin on a table, where HENARE came off the side of the cage with a senton to put him through it. Connors brought out thumbtacks, but the Aswang put Connors into the tacks face-first.

Cobb hit Tour of the Islands on Connors for a nearfall that Finlay broke up before laying into Cobb with a kendo stick and a chair. Gedo tossed the shillelagh to Finlay before he drilled Cobb with it. Finlay laid Cobb out with a con-chair-to before having Moloney handcuffed him to the cage. Ospreay came back with a Spanish Fly to Finlay for a nearfall. Finlay countered the Oscutter with Prima Nocta, but Ospreay rebounded with a Hidden Blade to the face for a nearfall. Finlay hit Into Oblivion twice, but Ospreay kicked out.

Gedo brought out a barbed wire-covered table, taking out an interfering Great O-Khan by poking him in the eye with the key to the cage. Akira sent Gedo to the floor, where O-Khan retrieved the handcuff key and freed Newman on the outside. Gabe Kidd interfered, leading to Ospreay dragging him face-first down the barbed wire table. Gedo tried interfering, but Newman entered the cage to take him out, hitting dual Oscutters with Ospreay. The Aswang misted Finlay, and Ospreay put him through a table, but Finlay kicked out.

Moloney brought in the fork and stabbed Ospreay, then had Kidd send him through a ladder with a piledriver. Moloney busted open Akira with the fork, but a bloody Akira fired up and ran wild with the fork. Connors tried to interfere with the dog collar, but Akira got him with the fork and hung him over the ropes. Akira hit Speedfire, but Kidd broke up the pin. Kidd and Finlay hit a stacked piledriver on Aswang before they took the canvas off of the ring to expose the wood underneath.

As the wooden boards underneath the ring shifted and sunk under the ring, HENARE took Kidd down with a suplex on the wood. Coughlin took him out before handcuffing HENARE to the cage. Akira fired up but ended up taking a Tombstone onto the boards. Ospreay broke up the pin and dragged Akira out of the rubble, but soon watched as all five War Dogs surrounded him in the ring.

Finlay offered Ospreay one free shot, but Ospreay collapsed before he could take it. After Connors and Moloney hit the high-low spear on him, Finlay wrapped the barbed wire around his knee to hit Overkill and win this absolute war. 64 minutes of mayhem and hell ends the way David Finlay said it would, with him and his War Dogs standing tall over Ospreay.

This match was incredibly captivating. The length will be an issue for some, but by the end of the match, this felt like a war of attrition that Finlay’s crew had decisively won. The end will be clunky for some, but I was so taken in by these maniacs doing spots in a ring that was literally falling apart. I can see this being a divisive match, but I fall firmly on the side that loves it. Unless we get an unusually great year, this will rank high on my Match of the Year list for 2024. *****

This will be an iconic match for the War Dogs, standing tall over the defeated body of Will Ospreay in a destroyed New Japan ring. The United Empire side benefited from this as well, especially Akira, who was the focus of the feud throughout this tour. He was fired up in the backstage comments, saying he didn’t fear the War Dogs anymore and would get to the top of the Junior division.

HENARE, whose New Japan career has been rife with injuries and bad timing, fought through what looked to be a bad head injury to put on an incredible performance on one of the biggest stages of his career. Between this match and the war with Gabe Kidd in Korakuen, he looks determined to step up as New Japan moves into this new generation. Let’s hope his health allows him to take that step.

And of course, there’s Will Ospreay. He led his men into war and ended up being the casualty of it. The post-match was incredibly emotional, as after being helped to his feet, he thanked the New Japan fans and expressed his love for them. He embraced his team and his wife before exiting the stage one last time to the Osaka crowd chanting his name, mirroring that love back to him. In his backstage comments, Ospreay asked that the New Japan fans give the same grace they had for him to his protégé Callum Newman, who he believes is better than he was at that age. And with that, Will Ospreay’s New Japan career has come to an end.

From the supremely athletic high flyer that entered the company in 2016, to the world-class talent that he exits as, Ospreay has spent the last eight years developing into an all-around special pro wrestler. Any criticism of his game was heard and improved upon. His selling got better. His physique got better. He became a better promo. And in the dark days of the pandemic, Ospreay worked hard to keep the torch burning.

At age 30, Will Ospreay leaves New Japan as one of the most successful foreigners in the history of the company. He leaves a former IWGP World Champion, a three-time IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion, a two-time – and the final – IWGP United States Champion, and a former NEVER Openweight Champion. His feuds with KUSHIDA, Ricochet, Shingo Takagi, and Kazuchika Okada made for some of the best matches in company history.

He leaves as a New Japan Cup winner, and one of seven men to have won Best of the Super Juniors multiple times. He leaves as one of the best wrestlers to ever come through the company, with a mind-blowing 83 matches with at least an 8.00 rating on Cagematch and 26 matches in New Japan getting 5 stars or better from the Wrestling Observer.

To write a career obituary for Ospreay would be silly, as he’ll most likely be wrestling at AEW’s next PPV. But the shadow he leaves in New Japan will loom large, only overshadowed by that of his “big brother” Okada. He will be missed, but his legacy in New Japan will live on through his United Empire unit, with teammates and protégés alike. It will live on through the New Japan/RevPro relationship, of which he was New Japan’s best find and Rev Pro’s strongest advocate over the years. And it will live on with the endless catalog of great matches and moments that he had.